If you were listening to the Today programme this morning you can’t have failed to pick up on the story that the National Institute for Care and Excellence (Nice) wants GPs to prescribe an anti-alcohol pill to those who like to share a bottle of wine with a friend of an evening. Apparently, 600,000 people in the UK would be eligible for these nalmefene tablets, which work by blocking the brain’s pleasure-response to alcohol, thereby making that second glass completely pointless. According to wikipedia nalmefene has also been investigated for the treatment of pathological gambling and addiction to shopping.
Rolling out this drug across the UK would cost approximately £288 million a year and save an estimated 370 lives annually. The cost of £778,000 per life might seem a highly questionable use of resources to those denied life-prolonging cancer (or other) drugs by NHS rationing. It is a particularly odd move at a time when alcohol consumption has been falling for a decade: it is now 18% lower per head than it was in 2004. Wine drinkers – if you are female and enjoy a regular two glasses then you are among those being targeted here – might reasonably ask why they are being persecuted in this way. 387 motorcyclists perished in road accidents in 2011 and 170 died from accidental drowning but there is no suggestion of developing pills that might make motorbikes seem a bit boring or put us off pulling on our cossies and going for a swim.
This is completely crazy. It is wrong to ghettoise alcohol. Booze is not another nicotine. Countless studies have shown that it is overall better for you to drink a little than to drink nothing at all. Here’s the latest, from today’s papers, flagged up by Pete Brown (thanks, Pete), though not grabbing nearly as much attention as the nalmefene story funnily enough. Drinking is better than not drinking both in health terms and also in pleasure terms. Wine tastes good; it’s life-enhancing; fun; a joy.
Unless, of course, you over-do it every single day and spend your entire life in a dim fog, unable to function, making bad decisions, hiding from reality and getting really upset at the slightest whiff-whaff because as everyone knows a hangover can make you over-emotional and teary.
This is the real problem. The way that we talk about alcohol needs to be a complex not a simple discussion. And discussions in public life don’t really do nuanced. It’s easier to put out hyperbolic scare-stories than it is to take a serious look at our relationship with drink. And whether we are talking about real alcoholism or a mild tendency to drink a bit too much, it’s easier for politicians to blame the product – someone else’s problem – than it is for them to tackle the social issues underlying the drinking. After all, if they did, they might be expected to do something about them. They might fail.
As I write about wine professionally I’m very conscious of my own relationship with alcohol. I have to be, I literally taste/drink for a living. Just at the moment I’m only drinking a couple of times a week – mainly because I’m a total lightweight and don’t have time to lose an hour every single day following fuzzy but happy contemplation of a wine glass. A lot of my friends, trying to hold down jobs and child-wrangle, say the same thing. It’s a positive choice. We love wine but there are other things we want to do as well.
It’s also MY choice. I don’t know about you but the minute someone tells me I “should” stop drinking, I’m straight to the drawer with the cork screw in it and pouring myself the biggest glass I can find. Then another one.
If this government really wants us all to drink less, how about trying to give us more choice to do as we please. George Osborne could start by offering favourable rates of duty on half bottles of wine. The 750ml bottle is a ridiculously unhelpful size for those who’d really like to drink a glass or two but then carry on anyway because it’s a shame to throw it away. Or who make themselves an incredibly strong G&T (guilty!) rather than opening a nice bottle because if you’re only going to drink a glass that’s one hell of an expensive glass of wine. Half bottles are disproportionately expensive so no one buys them. Cutting duty rates on halves to redress this imbalance might make actually them more popular. But no anti-drinking pills for social drinkers, thanks. I’m kind of with my mother who says, “In 20 years time then they’ll tell us that the nalmefene was worse for us anyway.”
In the meantime, I’d like to introduce and recommend the brand new and very much welcomed Tesco bag-in-box wines. The supermarket has just put some of its best-loved own-label *finest range into 1.5 litre BiB. Now, I realise bag in box was traditionally bought either by cheapskates or people who wanted to pretend they were just having a glass and then went on to finish the whole thing (and you can still do that if you like) but the idea here is to make wine that is actually nice available in your fridge in a sleek format that means you can have a small glass or a big one, when you please. And they last six weeks. (And it was my idea).
The ones I like best:
finest* picpoul de pinet 2013 France (£14.99/1.5 litre bag in box) – Hugely popular, white, saline, thinking person’s pinot grigio.
finest* Swartland chenin blanc South Africa (£12.99/1.5 litre bag in box) – White, so good, think orchard fruits, pear and windfall apples.