Over the past few days, the media have been full of stories about the decision of the UK’s Chief Medical Officer to reduce the recommended maximum levels of alcohol consumption, and to state explicitly that no level can be considered “safe”. This has been thoroughly demolished by Christopher Snowdon, and there’s little I can add to that.
The subject has also attracted the ire of some of our most respected newspaper columnists. In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins wrote that The state needs to butt out of Britain’s drinking habits, concluding by saying “France has the best government guidance on alcohol consumption. It has none.” And this surely is the nub of the matter:
Everything we do in life is risky, including much that some people enjoy and others deplore. Most daily risks we assess and accept for ourselves. We would be furious if Whitehall laid down risk and safety limits for riding horses, climbing mountains, eating foreign food and playing rugby. All involve far greater danger than marginal changes in consuming alcohol.Then, in today’s Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore has urged Don’t let the public health zealots demonise us innocent drinkers, in which he makes this crucial point:
But something more important is being missed. These guidelines are not intended to stand alone. They are twists of a ratchet. Public health zealots, like environmentalist ones, work always to construct a net of public policies that will eventually ensnare whatever group it is they dislike.If there is no safe level of consumption, then producers and retailers of alcohol are denied any cloak of respectability. They are no longer valued corporate citizens: they are engaged in a “toxic trade”.
The model in their minds is tobacco. Having succeeded in virtually outlawing smoking, they want to do the same with alcohol. If they can create the public “fact” that there is no such thing as safe drinking, they can then attack everyone who brews, distils, makes wine, or runs a pub, club or restaurant, for pushing something which is unsafe.
JTI Gallaher are currently in the process of closing down a large cigarette factory in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, which employed 800 people. Local MP Ian Paisley Jr has protested about the economic blight this will produce. But a lot of people will think “I’m sorry people are losing their jobs, but maybe in the long term we’d be better off without that.”
Brewers, distillers, cidermakers, wineries, pubs, bars, off-licences – one day, in the not too distant future, that could be you.