Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


International regulation of alcohol

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 07 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2364

Rapid Response:

A lesson from history


Excessive alcohol consumption has been and will continue to be a
significant public health issue as long as alcohol is easily accessible.
Public health concerns surrounding excessive alcohol are not new and one
of the great fathers of epidemiology, John Snow, encountered similar
problems. In 1836 Snow returned to York, after his apprenticeship, to be
appalled by the combination of poverty and excessive alcohol. He knew the
“serious derangement in the [bodily] economy” that alcohol caused. Finding
a like-minded schoolteacher and Methodist minister, he founded the York
Temperance Society which through public meetings and debates promoted
abstinence. Despite his best efforts excessive alcohol consumption
continued, as it does today, to cause considerable physical, physiological
and social harm. Throughout history it is evident that consumption of
excessive alcohol is a human weakness common to every generation. Current
policies that seek to inform and educate the public about the dangers of
alcohol or extend opening hours to curb binge drinking will do little to
reduce this human vice. Surely we must recognise that tough national and
international measures which reduce the accessibility of vast quantities
of cheap alcohol are the only way forward as we attempt to curb this age-
old weakness.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

30 November 2008
John A Ford
FY2 Doctor
Dr Grays Hospital, Elgin, IV30 1PX