France does have a drink problem, survey reveals



By John Lichfield in Paris 
Published: 25 November 2005 

http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article329183.ece

France regards itself as a nation which knows how to
take its drink, unlike, say, the Scandinavians or the
British. But a hard-hitting report presented to the
government suggested the entire country is in a state
of alcoholic denial. 

One in 10 French people has a drink problem, the
report says. Every day, five people die of
alcohol-linked accidents or diseases in France.

The semi-official study undermines an argument used by
the Blair government for extending Britain's pub
opening hours. Spreading drinking over a longer
period, as France does, does not necessarily reduce
alcohol-related social ills.

Addiction to alcohol in France is partly rooted in
politics, says Hervé Chabalier, the author of the
report, who is a television journalist and recovering
alcoholic. The influence of wine-growers, and the
wider drinks industry, on the government means the
dangers of drink have never been properly addressed,
M. Chabalier said. The one exception - a law passed in
1991 restricting drink advertising - was not fully
applied and is now being dismantled, he said.

M. Chabalier, author of a best-selling book last year
on his near-destruction by drink, calls for all
bottles of wine and other drinks to have a
health-warning label. He also wants a national
campaign to warn young people - and especially young
women - of the dangers of alcohol.

"Culturally, alcohol has always been considered here
as something convivial," M. Chabalier said. "We must
stop treating it like an everyday consumer need, like
baguettes. It must be de-normalised."

The chances of M. Chabalier being heeded are slender
to non-existent. The French wine industry, reeling
from increased competition abroad and falling
consumption at home, rejected the report yesterday as
"alarmist" and unpatriotic.

France does not have a tradition of binge-drinking or
obvious public drunkenness, as in Britain. It has a
less visible problem of constant, steady consumption
of alcohol, often starting early in the day. This
tends to make the problem less visible but not
necessarily less acute.

Although wine consumption has fallen dramatically,
young people especially have switched to beer, spirits
and alcopops. More than five million people in France
- more than one in 10 adults - have an "abusive"
relationship with drink, according to the report.
About two million people should be considered addicted
to alcohol.

Drink, and especially drink-driving, is the largest
single cause of death among young people in France. Up
to 3,000 babies a year are born physically or mentally
handicapped because their mothers drank heavily while
they were in the womb. Drink-related illnesses kill
23,000 French people a year. When accidents are
included, the drink-connected death rate rises to
45,000.

M. Chabalier also complains that the French medical
profession and health industry, which are influenced
by the prevailing national attitude, fail to regard
alcoholism as a disease and therefore provide few
resources for drink-related illnesses. "You have to
wait three months for an appointment in one of the few
alcohol clinics," he said. "That gives you more than
enough time to get back on the booze." 





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