Soon Britons will be able to get smashed at the pub while their pint glasses won't.
The shatterproof pint glass was proudly unveiled by the government on Thursday. Officials swore the country would save billions in health care costs by coming up with a glass that doesn't double as a lethal weapon.
But noticeably, no officials were talking about reforming the British binge drinking culture at the root of the problem.
There are about 87,000 alcohol-related glass attacks each year, with many resulting in hospital visits, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said as he introduced the two prototype shatterproof pint glasses.
"Glassing causes horrific injuries and has a lasting and devastating impact on victims and their families," Johnson said. "I hope these designs will help bring an end to such attacks."
Two types of shatterproof technologies are in the works: one has a thin bio-resin coating on the inside that strengthens it, and the other bonds two thin layers of gas together in the same way as car windshields. Both are difficult to break and keep the shards together if they do fracture, rendering them useless as weapons.
Praise for new designs
The government is touting the prototypes as the first significant improvement in bar glassware in decades. The plan is to introduce the new glasses for use on a voluntary basis in pubs if tests show they are durable, cost-effective and safe.
Alcohol Concern, a charity working to lessen alcohol abuse in Britain, praised the new designs.
"We're very much in favor," chief executive Don Shanker said. "There has been good local research showing this could reduce the use of glass in violent incidents."
Half of all violent assaults in Britain are alcohol-related and it has become common for drinkers to smash glasses and use them as weapons, he added.
"You are five times more likely to be involved in a violent incident if you are in or around a licensed bar," he said. "There is a clear correlation."
The government estimates that "glassing" attacks cost the National Health Service roughly 2.7 billion pounds ($4.3 billion) per year.
In the North London neighborhood of Camden, where heavy drinking bouts are commonplace, bartender Mirjam Linzie said the staff at the Elephants Head pub would welcome safer glasses.
Welcomed by bartenders
"One time there was a big fight and 50 pints were smashed in one minute," she said. "One man smashed a glass over another one's head. One person's eye was popping out. It was a bloodbath. There was glass raining. People were hiding behind the counter."
Of course, a shatterproof pint could still be used like a club in fight — but at least it wouldn't produce lethal shards of glass with the cutting power of a sharp knife.
Bartenders at other establishments said glass-related violence was rare but safer glasses would be welcome because so many break and shatter even in normal use.
Home Office designers worked with the Britain's Design Council to come up with the prototypes.
Design Council chief David Kester said the new glasses will be used on a trial basis by a major pub chain that he did not name.
"We are launching the redesign of a British classic, the pint glass," he said. "We tried to find ways to make life better while saving money. We're a creative nation."
Drinkers don't like plastic
Plastic glasses were not an option because experience shows that drinkers are not happy with them, said Matt Cotterill, the creative director at Design Bridge, part of the design squad.
"Glass feels good in the hand, it feels cold," he said. "Plastic is warm."
Roger Protz, author of the Campaign for Real Ale Good Beer Guide, agreed that plastic glasses are an insult to beer drinkers everywhere. But he said he has never seen pint glasses used in a malicious way.
"I must frequent the wrong pubs," he said.
Besides being shatterproof, the design with two thin layers of glass — called a Twin Wall — could have a hidden benefit for drinkers everywhere.
"The glass could keep the beer colder for longer," Cotterill said.