Wed, May 25, 2005 - Page 6 News List

British watering holes move to curb excessive drinking

NEW MEASURE The announcement that half of all UK pubs will cut back happy hour offers drew praise from some but indignation from others


Beer-swilling Britons face a sobering prospect: an un-happy hour.

A group representing about half the country's pubs and bars said Monday it is ditching Happy Hour offers and other deals that encourage irresponsible drinking, a British pastime that has come under increasing attack from the government.

It's not quite "The Death of Happy Hour," as the Daily Mirror newspaper headline put it Monday.

Publicans can continue to host and advertise Happy Hours, as long as they don't spur people to drink too much, too quickly. Offers that invite customers to drink for free after paying a cover charge, for example, are to be nixed. Half-price drinks will still be allowed, but only if it's done responsibly with say, offers of food too.

"We're not banning promotions, we're just banning irresponsible promotions," said Christine Milburn, with the British Beer and Pub Association, which issued the new guidelines on behalf of some 70 companies that own about half of Britain's 60,000 pubs.

The move follows recent government attempts to curb excessive drinking, which it blames for much of the crime and violence in Britain's city centers. Binge drinking, especially on weekends, is one aspect of social disorder which Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he intends to tackle during his third term in office.

Officials have also urged the alcohol industry to play a bigger part in tackling the problem.

But the new Happy Hour rules left some drinkers, well -- unhappy.

"They're taking away our freedom," said Sid Smith, 34, from London.

Some pub owners applauded the move, saying happy hours tend to draw the riff-raff.

"You get a certain type of clientele looking for a cheap drink," Judd Joyce, 39, manager of The City Retreat. "We're better than that."

Government studies suggest that binge drinking is involved in two out of five male drinking session. Police say alcohol is a factor in 44 percent of violent crimes.

It's a problem which crosses class lines, even into the royal family. Prince Harry, younger son of Prince Charles, was snapped taking a few swings at a photographer in October after one late night of drinking.

"By far the biggest problem we have had is so-called `happy hours' but also irresponsible drinks promotions which can last all night and which encourage people to drink and drink and drink," said Inspector Bill Whitehead of Sussex Police, south of London.

His force is working to involve pubs and clubs in voluntary programs to curb excess.

Prime Minister Tony Blair highlighted his concern about binge drinking a year ago, when he spoke of "a clear and growing problem on our town and city centers up and down the country on Friday and Saturday nights."

"As a society we have to make sure that this form of what we often call binge drinking, doesn't become a British disease," Blair said a year ago.

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