The government’s decision to encourage the opening of bars in the countryside will have disastrous health consequences, alert addictologists *.
On February 21, during the Interministerial Committee on Rurality in Girancourt, in the Vosges, the Prime Minister declared, with a glass of wine in hand, that to revitalize the small towns of less than 3,500 inhabitants affected by desertification and decline economical, he was going to distribute free License IV to open bars. The announcement obviously cannot be analyzed out of context and smells of clientelism, a month before the first round of municipal elections.
But regardless of the context, the logic of this decision can only worry about the real awareness by our leaders of the problems facing our country today. Because this generosity towards the alcohol lobby defies all rationality, as the messages that this decision carries are fraught with consequences, and certainly not for the benefit of the populations concerned.
In these small towns where economic activity has declined, recent social movements have revealed that despair arises from the disappearance of public services and shops, primarily convenience stores, which force residents to move to do their shopping and in fact for all the needs of their daily life. However, Edouard Philippe does not propose to remedy these structural difficulties, but to forget them by drowning them in alcohol. The Prime Minister is mistaken and deceives us when he claims to remedy social misery by creating bars, when the first condition for conviviality and social ties is not drunkenness, but a living, productive and integrated social fabric in the dynamism of the country. Starting with the glass at the counter is just a cautery (which is more dangerous) on a wooden leg.
But above all, this decision carries many immediate and longer-term risks . It is obviously incomprehensible, for a Prime Minister who has made road safety a priority, to offer to drink more in areas where the car is essential for the least movement. Returns from the bar will be at risk and some lives may suffer.
In terms of public health, it is perfectly demonstrated that the level of alcohol consumption in a country (with its mechanical consequences on mortality, morbidity and disabilities) depends on the importance of the supply of alcoholic beverages. By increasing the availability of alcohol, we will increase the level of consumption, which is already one of the highest in the world: France is the 3rd largest consumer of alcohol in the OECD.
We also know that inequality translates into more alcohol and tobacco use at the bottom of the social ladder. This social gradient, unfavorable to the less favored of the French, will further increase, because it is they who the government decision will encourage to consume more. The poor will pay a heavier price if the only solution offered to them to forget their distress is the creation of a bistro, not a service or a job.
It is useless, as Édouard Philippe does, to refer to an alleged golden age of the countryside, when France had 200,000 holders of IV licenses (against 40,000 currently), because this era was also the one when we consumed 26 liters of pure alcohol per person per year (compared to 11.7 today), and as a result alcohol was causing social, family and health damage. This self-blindness on the reality of the “good old days of yore” conceals a reality of suffering from which it would be better to move away even more than to get closer to it with glasses at the counter. But the pastism combines with the nod to the soil and traditions to avoid facing the challenges of today.
“Desertified areas will pay a high price”
In addition, the success of the Défi de janvier / Dry January à la française demonstrated the awareness of the population as to the alcohol risk. The alcohol lobby had obtained from the President of the Republic the cancellation of support for this social mobilization operation, which makes the demonstration more striking. The French are today concerned about their health, they know better and better the risks associated with alcohol consumption. They are no longer fooled by lobbies who are motivated only by profits and not by general interest or the preservation of health. They know that conviviality, friendly, romantic or social relationships do not need alcohol to flourish.
The countryside deserves better than the incitement to drunkenness, because forgetting about alcohol is only temporary. The larga manu distribution of licensed alcoholic beverages licensed for a long time cannot be an illusion: social problems will remain, the health consequences will worsen and ultimately it is desertified areas that will pay the highest price.