Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Give us the facts

I was recently critical of a report by a Parliamentary committee calling for more prominent and graphic health warnings on alcoholic drinks. However, as this opinion piece in The Grocer argues, surely providing more information is a good thing, and up to a point the author is right. I remember when alcoholic strengths were never stated on bottles of beer or wine, and spirits were quoted in terms of % proof which to most people was meaningless. Now it’s unthinkable that this information shouldn’t be provided and, far from leading to people “buying on strength” the end result has often been choosing slightly weaker drinks. Likewise, stating the number of alcohol units gives a ready comparison between drinks of different strengths and package sizes.

If we have to have health warnings, the present rather discreet and standardised ones aren’t really too objectionable, and at least they admit the possibility that very modest consumption might not be harmful. Nobody who is likely to take any notice can be unaware that excessive consumption may have an adverse effect. And it’s hard to see any objection to following the example of virtually all other food and drink products and stating both calorie content and ingredients. The latter is something that producers of all types of alcoholic drinks have long resisted, suggesting that they may have something to hide.

But there comes a point when the provision of facts to help people make informed purchases morphs into a conscious attempt to deter purchase in the first place. Even without photos of diseased livers, putting more prominent health warnings on the front of packages would fall into that category and needs to be strongly resisted.


  1. cant see a problem with hideous
    graphic warnings in pubs ,on glasses and on bottles,lets face it most shrugged their shoulders when graphics appeared on fag packets. Drinkers are a bit like Third Reich Citizens,not bothered when a nighbour goes missing as long as their door does'nt get a knock.

  2. Of course in some American states, they're still forbidden to display the strength of beer because of high-strength buying.

  3. Well last night I necked a bottle of shiraz and ended up a bit pissed. There was no warning on the bottle that necking the lot would get me pissed. This is grossly irresponsible of plonk peddlers. There should be a warning on the lines of "careful lad, a glass is okay but if you polish it off you'll be pissed"

  4. Sorry to be pedantic Mudge, but spirits were quoted in terms of degrees proof and not % proof, which is a totally different thing.

    "Proof " was an old fashioned, and rather haphazard way of assessing the alcohol content of a particular spirit, (gin, whisky, brandy etc), before the invention of the hydrometer. The drink in question was mixed with gunpowder, and then a match would be set to it. If the alcohol content was sufficiently high to allow the mixture to burn, the spirit was deemed to be "proof". If the alcohol level was lower, and the water content, by implication higher, then the mixture would not burn, and the spirit was "under proof".

    Today's measurement of %alcohol by volume (some US states use % alcohol by weight), is a much more sensible system.

  5. Anon: let's not stop with alcohol. Let's show:

    Diseased body parts on food packaging to show the effects of eating to excess.

    Shattered limbs on all mountain climbing equipment to highlight the dangers of the slightest error of judgement.

    Mangled bodies in car adverts.

    Pictures of skin cancer on beach holiday brochures.

    Dead bodies in job adverts for the construction industry.

    I could go on. Alternatively, we could simply give people info and let them decide for themselves. I can't imagine there are many drinkers who think drinking is a completely risk-free activity. Graphic pictures are not about giving info, but, as CM suggests, about deterrence.

    Your comparison with the Third Reich is crass and tasteless. I don't know any drinkers who drove the trains to Auschwitz.

  6. @Tyson - and, a while back, tobacco companies were prohibited from giving out information on the tar content of cigarettes, so knowing which are high and low tar now depends on folk memory.

    I think I've suggested before that one step in the anti-drink crusade could be grouping drinks in "strength categories" but making it illegal within that to declare the actual strength.

  7. @Paul - I'm sure you are strictly speaking correct, but my recollection is that spirits were generally (if wrongly) described as "70 percent proof" or whatever.

  8. Alcohol requires only one warning. "Do not drink, for use cleaning paint brushes only"

    Mr Curmudgeon may ignore such a warning, younger, educated people will likely heed it.

  9. Regretably Nev, I think Anonymous's comparison with the Third Reich is all too correct. People aren't bothered about the creeping loss of liberties, the lack of tolerance and increasing surveilance by the state. Not, that is, until it affects them! Unfortunately by then it is usually too late.

    The famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a communist" etc, etc, sums up the insidious, slow creeping hand of the totalitarian state all too well.

    And yes,drinkers or not, somebody drove those trains!

  10. I drink and I love it. However, I would like to see a definitive guide to alcohol in the public domain replacing all the garbage spewed by headline grabbing politicians and that of the drinks lobby and that of the great and good. Alcohol is pretty much done in terms of scientific research apart from the red herrings extrapolated by the aforementioned people - see red wine with meals, etc. Alcohol is a drug, it is a poison, it leaves the body in a very structured way, extreme abuse causes many diseases that affect the brain, nervous system and vital organs. It disrupts the digestive system and that disruption causes weight gain. People do need to know but they need the facts. Science has explained alcohol use and misuse on the body and these are facts. The facts we need now are, what is the cost of an alcoholic to the NHS and what are the benefits to society. A very simple cost benefit analysis to society and if the cost is greater than the benefit then ban it. If however, as I believe the case will be there is a benefit then all the people who wish to nanny can fuck off.

  11. The probability of getting an accurate and balanced assessment of the net costs and benefits of alcohol on society is zero.
    The lies and myths of the anti-alcohol lobby have been around now for 20 years, and are now so ingrained in the minds of the public that the damage is irreversible. Even if you told people the truth, it would so deeply contradict everything they've been told, they simply couldn't believe it even if they wanted to.

  12. Also,

    (1) Alcohol affects different people in different ways, and the current official guidelines represent a kind of lowest common denominator.

    (2) Much of it is not "facts" as such but an assessment of risk. If you never did anything that carried some degree of risk, you would in practice do very little, and certainly little enjoyable. And, even accepting the official guidelines at face value, what they don't say is that the risk curve only slopes very gently upwards for a long way above the recommended "limits".

  13. @Oliver. It is as plain as day that the costs outway any negligible erroneous benefits claimed by the sad delusional addicts trapped in their cycles of self destructive behaviour. Banning it is the only rational solution.

  14. TT and t'others
    May I suggest that smokers and drinkers cover their cost to "SOCIETY" many times over
    with plenty left over to cover
    the burden of non smokers ,non drinkers and weary dreary po faced
    calvinists who when not watching
    TV bilge are out casting despair,doom,misery,eternal greyness and envy on their neighbours.

  15. There should be some kind of award for getting "Third Reich" into the first comment. Incidentally, I don't remember the smoking community being up in arms when magic mushrooms were made illegal.

  16. Indeed, 'nonny. Anyone who adopts life style which kills him before pensionable age or even before he needs continuous care is making a large financial contribution to Society, a contribution which far outweighs any incidental expense he incurs.

  17. Magic mushrooms were hardly something produced commercially and routinely taken in social situations by a large minority of the adult population so the comparison is basically a straw man.

    Mind you, at the time of the handgun ban, a lot of people (including many smokers) did suggest that it might by the start of a slippery slope and were roundly pooh-poohed for their efforts.

  18. Surely each case should be compared on its own merits. You can't possibly be arguing that everything should be legal, from nuclear weapons to driving on the pavement because you feel like it. You have to draw a line somewhere.

    and whether or not it is commercially produced is obviously entirely irrelevant to the argument.

  19. As blood pours down another gutter and drips off the fists drunken violence. As brave nurses tackle the nightly terrors of drunken thuggery. As doctors battle to save the lives of those with ruined livers, ruined lives.

    There are those, the stupid, the ignorant that believe the poison that is poisoning the whole of society, the ruinous filth responsible for the fall of man is harmless.

    Ban it. Ban it today, ban it without delay.

  20. Dear Curmudgeon - re 2. what of what is not facts? The affects of alcohol on the body and mind is proven scientific fact. The facts are written in stone, not one shred of doubt exists in the scientific community. It is proven. The facts however are not communicated properly to the population, for instance people dieting counting the calories in alcohol but not realising that the digestive system is compromised because the liver takes priority to process the poison and thus the digestive system closes down emphasis on food digestion it purges food through the stomach it chooses to metabolise usable energy into long term energy, i.e. fat. That is one small detail about alcohol. As I said, science has done alcohol to death (pun intended). The public need facts and not the NHS half truths, the drinks lobby lies but the facts.
    BTW - I like the blog.

  21. "Incidentally, I don't remember the smoking community being up in arms when magic mushrooms were made illegal."

    I certainly was, I wouldn't know a magic mushroom if it bit me and was deeply worried in case they might be growing on the lawn, you can't just ban an indigenous plant, it could be growing anywhere.

    "Exceptions will be made for people who unknowingly pick the mushrooms in the wild or find them growing in their garden,"

    Oh, and be careful what you wish for.

    "Nicotine is an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae), predominantly in tobacco, and in lower quantities in tomato, potato, eggplant (aubergine), and green pepper."

    They kept that quiet didn't they?


  22. @TT, you were amusing at first but you are becoming tedious. At least with the mighty Anon, you don't know where he might be coming from next.
    I'm assuming your posts are ironic. If not, well... "Ban it. Ban it today, ban it without delay." Worked in the States didn't it.

  23. @py - personal nuclear weapons is obviously a reductio ad absurdam - although when I hear the children's chorus in Sunday lunchtime Spoons I am sorely tempted.

    But, ultimately, liberty is indivisible, and the same principle applies across a huge range of human activities. As one Danny Frederick said, "If you value the freedom to do the things you enjoy, you had better defend the freedoms of others to do the things they enjoy too."

    There is a direct read-across from the smoking ban - and the handgun ban - to restrictions on alcohol.

  24. "@TT, you were amusing at first but you are becoming tedious."

    Yes, the joke has worn very thin now. And are you one of my regular contributors in disguise?

  25. Professor Pie-Tin28 August 2014 at 23:59

    @ Mudgie

    " Yes, the joke has worn very thin now. And are you one of my regular contributors in disguise? "

    Repetition of the same old joke ? That certainly has a ring of Cookie about it.
    A one-trick pony if ever I saw one.
    Talking of ponies ...

  26. Nail may well have been hit on head there, Prof...

  27. Not guilty but I like TT so carry on, lad. You tell 'em.

  28. liberty is ultimately a zero sum game. You don't increase or decrease it, you simply re-apportion it from some groups to others.

  29. Cock. 'twas the commercial production (or at least packaging) of shrooms that triggered their outlawing. But I take your point about them being a minority interest. Rather like smoking.

  30. "liberty is ultimately a zero sum game. You don't increase or decrease it, you simply re-apportion it from some groups to others."

    Even by your standards that's utter bollocks. So the amount of liberty in North Korea is the same as that in the UK, just distributed differently?

  31. Yes, the amount of liberty experienced by Kim Jong Un and his goons is greater than anything any of us could imagine.

    Murder, rape, genocide, torture, even smoke in cars with children present; whatever they feel like doing on a wet tuesday afternoon, they're completely and utterly free to do.

    Now THAT is true liberty.

  32. Anonymous py said...

    The probability of getting an accurate and balanced assessment of the net costs and benefits of alcohol on society is zero.
    The lies and myths of the anti-alcohol lobby have been around now for 20 years, and are now so ingrained in the minds of the public that the damage is irreversible. Even if you told people the truth, it would so deeply contradict everything they've been told, they simply couldn't believe it even if they wanted to.

    Just like smoking, then.

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    Joseph Goebbels - Hitler's Propaganda Minister

  33. Freedom isn't a zero sum game for the simple reason that capitalism is a superior system to tyrannies of either feudalism or socialism

    The removal of a great amount of freedom from 1 tyrant is a smaller sum than the sum total of freedoms granted the wider population.

    That's why capitalism works and the tyranny of socialism doesn't.

    This has fuck all to do with smoking in pubs as the costs are greater than liberties. No society accepts the liberty of some to disease others.

  34. Yo, @cookie. Remind me, what units is "freedom" measured in - so that we can be sure we're getting our sums right?

    Bah! Reification, I call it.

  35. We god damn measure it in a unit called the "Palin" after Americas next pres.

  36. Nah, Rand Paul.

  37. You all seem to fortet that "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose"

  38. "I don't remember the smoking community being up in arms when magic mushrooms were made illegal."
    I don't understand why any recreational drugs are illegal. But at least with magic mushroom you can take them before you go to the pub and feel the effects for hours. But the problem with the smoking ban is that it's traditional for smokers to smoke inside where it is comfortable and of course this is very visible activity just like drinking is.
    You don't drink a bottle of whisky and then sit in a pub not drinking but with mushrooms you would do something very similar.

    I experienced a two hour smoke in in a pub over the bank holiday. It was great to see the ash trays on the tables. Nice friendly mix of smokers and non-smokers just like the happy days before the filthy disgusting pub killing smoking ban.

  39. Yet another reason to avoid timmy pubs.


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