A few years ago, on the day they banned cigarette smoking in the UK’s pubs, bars and restaurants, I was at a press conference with the new chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association.
Given the cigarette ban, I asked him wasn’t he worried that if we kept giving an inch to the anti-drinking lobby, it would try to take a mile, and we could find ourselves over-policed in future?
Alcohol is very different, he said. When did anyone say that one or two cigarettes a day was good for you?
This answer worried me for two reasons. One, because I thought it was very complacent, and two, because actually the cigarette industry did promote smoking as a healthy option once. Just look at the advertising in the ’60s and ’70s, with athletic beach dwellers in trunks and cowboys riding on the open spaces.
I often think of that exchange. Every time I see the ‘drink responsibly’ message on an advert – oh, yes, thanks for that, I think, I will. Or when I go on a drinks website and have to put my date of birth into the screen page.
I’m not against a responsible attitude to drinking, of course, but does the industry think that all teenagers are incapable of deducting 18 or 21 from 2015 and lying?
Three other thoughts. One, am I the only one who, when growing up and being told I was too young to go somewhere, that was the very reason I had to go? Two, are there statistics showing that people drink more after visiting a drink website? And finally, should it really be easier to go online and chat to strangers or watch violent porn than it is to read about a distillery in Cognac or the world’s most expensive whisky?
I might be wrong here, but to paraphrase the great rock journalist Lester Bangs, isn’t reading about alcohol like dancing to architecture to a 16 year old? Teenagers don’t want to read about it. They want to drink it.
Bizarrely, though, this pseudo safety netting has worked. It must have, because even David Beckham is advertising spirits. Brand Beckham doesn’t make business mistakes and it has found the perfect whisky, a major victory for style over substance, packaged brilliantly but…
Not everybody’s on message though, and the Irish still have a rebel heart. First Jameson let wild child actor Colin Farrell loose on its products, and now The Pogues are promoting their own whiskey, which is akin to getting American rock band Aerosmith promote an on-line pharmacy.
The Pogues, no doubt staggering on to a hearty intro tape of ‘Who drank all the drams? Who drank all the drams? We drunk musos, we drunk musos, we drank all the drams’, you can only conclude it will all end in tears.
Heaven help the fans if MacGowan and Co have added their own product to the band rider? Do you think the tour programme will have a ‘responsible drinking’ logo?
And will anyone try to tell Shane (MacGowan - The Pogues’ famously inebriated frontman)?