Alcohol is an accident that doesn’t wait – is it time to scale back its attractiveness?

Alcohol is everywhere in supermarkets - but should it be kept behind a counter like cigarettes and s

Alcohol is everywhere in supermarkets - but should it be kept behind a counter like cigarettes and should it carry similar health warnings on its packaging? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the last decade tobacco has been made less attractive by hiding products from display in shops to printing horrible images of their effects on packets. Steven Downes believes it's about time alcohol followed suit

More than 21,000 people were admitted to Norfolk hospitals in 2017-18 with alcohol-related conditions.

In Norwich, drink-linked deaths hit a 10-year high of 76 (434 in Norfolk).

Alcohol is the cause of countless fights, accidents, road deaths and injuries, domestic violence and so much more.

It costs the NHS billions of pounds, and stretches the Thin Blue Line to breaking point.

We know all this, and yet our love affair with booze does not diminish.

If we discovered that sun-dried tomatoes put us at minimal risk of arthritis, they'd be removed from the shelves - despite human chains being formed in the Golden Triangle.

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When one person is hurt or killed by a car at a junction, there are immediate calls for safety improvements - and local sages saying it was an 'accident waiting to happen'.

Booze is an accident that doesn't wait - it just happens, over and over again, down the ages, every minute of every day.

But walk into any supermarket and you'll see one or two entire aisles dedicated to every single bottle or can of booze imaginable.

In shop windows and on flyers through our doors, bargain deals are trumpeted colourfully for wine and 12-packs of beer or cider.

Everything is so enticing to all ages - even though it is fully understood that we are peddling poison.

It's a bit like the painted ladies in Tudor brothels - advertised attractively but with a syphilitic sting in the tail. But people go back for more.

Perversely, our attitude to alcohol is so ingrained that we boast of its effects, rather than blush.

After a night out, friends get together to laugh and joke about how drunk they were, how much they necked, when they were sick, who they got into a fight with, etc.

The stories are repeated on a loop for years.

Whenever I visit Cromer Cricket Club, people call me 'Red Rock' - a reference to the time, aged 17, when I drank far too much of the filthy cider during Cricket Week and ended up being picked up out of the road by police.

I'm not remembered for a spectacular catch or a fine shot, just for being an unconscious underage drinker.

Being a functioning alcoholic is almost seen as a badge of honour. And the countless people who have a couple of glasses every day after work would never consider that they have anything in common with people living on the streets and swigging super-strength lager.

But the 'respectable' environment and the accompanying prawn linguini do not make it any different - it's still alcohol dependency and it still wrecks health and lives.

Meanwhile, while booze is brazenly strutting its stuff in public, showing a bit of leg to any who will look, tobacco is treated very differently.

It doesn't cause domestic violence or street brawls: it is almost exclusively something that affects the user.

But the packets are hidden behind the counter, in locked cupboards, and carry grotesque images of a cancerous throat or a black lung.

The hypocrisy is astounding.

Now I'm not suggesting tobacco should be out in the open, jostling with Stella Artois or Bulmers for attention.

I'm actually wondering whether it's time to treat alcohol more like cigarettes.

Restrict the advertising, scale back the prominence of booze in the shops and supermarkets, and put alarming health warnings and graphic images on cans and bottles.

Overreaction? Nanny state?

The toll of alcohol-related deaths, injuries and hospital admissions mentioned above argues otherwise.