There’s a rather hysterical article in today’s Guardian claiming that the alcohol industry makes most of its profits from “problem drinkers”. In a sense this is no more than a statement of the bleeding obvious that they will make more money from customers who buy more of their product. And the definition of “people whose drinking is destroying or risking their health” is anyone who consumes more than the official guidelines, which includes many whose mortality risk is better than that of teetotallers. It is basically just a regurgitation of a press release from the Alcohol Health Alliance, who can’t be regarded as impartial observers.
This does in some people’s minds raise the question of how alcohol manufacturers can sleep at night when they are selling products to people who consume them in a self-destructive way. Or are they just evil monsters happy to profit from others’ misfortunes? The correct response to this is surely that alcoholic drinks are legal products that are consumed by most in a moderate fashion and bring pleasure to vast numbers of people. Adults must be treated as empowered individuals responsible for their own life decisions, not as children who must be protected from themselves. People who develop a drinking problem deserve help, but it should not be used as a justification for imposing restrictions on everyone else. And it is well nigh-impossible to draw a clear dividing line between products targeted at “responsible” and “irresponsible” consumers.
But it is part of a process of delegitimising alcohol producers. The official line is steadily edging towards the position that no level of consumption can be regarded as safe, and when that happens, brewers, vintners and distillers will be making all their profits from problem drinkers. This is what has already happened to the tobacco industry – it is regarded as a “toxic trade” and excluded from any involvement in policy discussions about the tobacco market. The last cigarette factory in the UK recently closed, but many will have said “good riddance”. How long will it be before the producers of alcoholic drinks are viewed in the same way?
Edit: the article is dissected here by Christopher Snowdon with his usual aplomb.