An argument purporting to show that Britain does not have a serious and growing problem with alcohol abuse can no longer be put forward with any degree of seriousness.
The latest NHS figures lend professional weight to anecdotal evidence that many people in this country are regularly drinking far more than is good for them, and just as worryingly appear to have no concern for the damage they are doing to their bodies until the inevitable emergency visit to a doctor or a hospital confirms the worse.
The number of hospital admissions linked to alcohol rose by seven per cent last year and has more than doubled since 1995. Under-age drinkers are starting earlier and consuming more than ever before.
And even allowing for teenage bravado and exaggeration, the finding by an NHS survey that 30 per cent of pupils aged 15 thought it was fine to get drunk at least once a week is alarming.
The picture that is emerging, of a culture in which alcohol plays an important social role, ought not to take the Government by surprise. Scarcely a week passes by without socalled celebrities, footballers and members of the aristocracy making fools of themselves by being photographed when three sheets to the wind and then passing the whole thing off as if it was just something to be expected, while it is now perfectly possible to drink legally in bars for 24 hours a day in almost any town or city in the country.
The question facing Ministers is can the tide be turned back, or will it prove impossible to reverse a trend that has been steadily creeping upwards for 40 years or more?
Put bluntly: in a society where people can spend their money as they wish, are warnings about the health risks attached to excessive drinking ever likely to produce positive results? If we assume that the Government is unlikely to reverse liberal licensing laws - to do so would probably make little difference to consumption anyway - and has no heart for the kind of swingeing taxes that would be necessary to dampen demand, the only answer is to inform and educate.
Years of campaigning about the dangers of smoking are at last beginning to produce results, while most people now regard drinking and driving to be unacceptable. A similar campaign about alcohol, starting in schools, may eventually trigger a culture change, but do not expect results overnight.