Change the message not the till

The Telegraph has reported that NHS Cumbria has suggested that alcohol should only be available from separate checkouts in Supermarkets. The concept seems to be that it will reduce the ‘impulse’ purchasing of alcohol.

The proposal is of course well intended and in terms of displaying alcohol near other products such as BBQ’s and other items that promote images of good relaxing times, there are likely to be some strong links with random unplanned purchases.

This puts the focus on the behaviour of people when they are shopping, but in my view it misses the opportunity to put the focus on the more general behaviour of why we actually feel the need to use alcohol.

And use it we do.

The reasons and justifications are very well established.  They usually start with something like,

‘I need it to relax’ – I would ask why it is that you are not able to relax without it? What is it that is causing you to feel tense or stressed? Have you considered addressing those reasons? Or is that just too troublesome and you prefer the illusion of being ‘relaxed’ under the influence of alcohol?

‘I only drink to socialise’ – What is so challenging about socialising that alcohol is required? Is the company less than perfect? Do you lack confidence and attempt to mask that with alcohol? Do the surroundings appear bland and uninteresting if you don’t drink? Are you sure that you really want to be in the company of the people that you are with in the place you find yourself?

‘I deserve a drink’ – You probably deserve much more, but using alcohol means that you can achieve a mind altered state without having to work out what really makes you happy. You may pay the price with a hangover and you may even get addicted, although of course that will never happen to you, will it?

I could go on, as there are alternatives to every justification for using alcohol, including the perceived health benefits and the message from successive governments that drug taking is bad, except for alcohol, which is considered ‘responsible’ and is described as ‘drinking’ rather than drug use.

I feel that if a change in behaviour is to be achieved it will have to be as a result of people thinking differently, having access to impartial high quality information, and making up their own minds about whether or not they want to drink alcohol.

I suspect moving the till won’t make much difference.


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