Saturday, 15 September 2018

Another morsel for the crocodile

The industry-funded alcohol education body Drinkaware have recently teamed up with Public Health England to launch a campaign to encourage people to have alcohol-free days. Some of us may enjoy a touch of Schadenfreude at the news that this has led to the resignations of several prominent figures such as Sir Ian Gilmore on the grounds that health campaigners should not have any association with the drinks industry.

However, that should not lead us to conclude that it is anything other than an act of appeasement of the anti-drink lobby. It takes as read the unscientific 14 units a week consumption guideline, something that if generally adopted by the population would probably render most of the pubs in the country unviable. It is worth noting that the equivalent guidelines in Italy are 35 units for men and 26 for women.

Plus, as often happens with such initiatives, the effect is likely to be more to encourage the already prudent to even more unnecessary over-caution, while being cheerfully ignored by the irresponsible. The objective often seems to be less to change behaviour than to further denormalise alcohol consumption per se. And, intuitively, it seems to me that drinking one pint every day of the week is likely to do you less harm than drinking seven pints on one day.

Accepting this guideline may give the industry a figleaf of respectability, but it’s an ever-shrinking one. Not so long ago, the figure was 28 units a week for men. It was then cut to 21, and now to 14. Will they still parrot it when it’s further reduced to 7, and then to 2? And how about when the official line becomes that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, something that has been claimed in a recent study? If drinks producers and retailers want to see where they will stand in the eyes of officialdom in twenty years’ time, they have only to look at the tobacco industry. They will have become a “toxic trade”.

It’s often a source of disappointment that industry bodies are so reluctant to speak out in their own defence, and just tag along with the official message. However, it has to be recognised that business is about making a profit, not conducting a moral crusade, and it may well make sense to keep your head down, playing along with the official agenda while dragging your feet a bit, and hoping that in time the storm will pass, which of course the previous temperance crusade of the 1870-1930 period eventually did.

On this note, it’s disappointing to see that the Drinkers’ Voice campaign, which I enthusiastically welcomed last year, seems to have become moribund. They haven’t updated their Twitter account for two months, and nor do they seem to have issued any press releases. It’s not exactly difficult for a pressure group to keep up the illusion of activity without actually doing very much, but they haven’t even been able to manage this, despite having received a substantial amount of seedcorn funding from CAMRA.

It’s always been difficult to get private citizens to come together in defence of their liberties as consumers and users of public services, as there’s an assumption that somebody else is going to do it for them. But if industry isn’t prepared to, then who else will? Of course there are individual bloggers and commenters who are prepared to speak out, but even they often come under suspicion, however unjustified, of being paid shills. Incidentally, CAMRA doesn’t really qualify as its original raison d’ être was to campaign against the policies of the brewing industry, not government, and it’s not really its role to become a generalised defender of drinkers’ interests.

There’s no body to champion the rights of all drinkers of alcohol, or of soft drinks, or of consumers of food. It’s all too easy just to chuckle when the other lot get it in the neck from government. But, at the end of the day, everyone will. United we stand, divided we fall.

19 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie15 September 2018 at 15:45

    Yes, CAMRA pledged £12,000 seed funding to help get Drinkers’ Voice off the ground and a month later one of its Directors stated that “this, paired with generous individual donations made to date, has meant that they have been able to raise £22,000 from its supporters”.
    I don’t know how much more money Drinkers’ Voice has raised in the last eleven months but it is most regrettable that it now “seems to have become moribund”.

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    1. Yes, although this wasn't specifically a post about Drinkers' Voice, it is pretty disgraceful. It doesn't take much effort to monitor a Twitter account and issue one press release a month, but it seems to have totally ceased to function. Where has all that money gone? I was giving them a small donation each month, which I have now stopped.

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    2. I seem to remember CAMRA experiencing a cash-flow problem about a year ago. Throwing members' money around in pursuit of non-specific campaigns, light years away from CAMRA's original remit, can't have helped this situation, and might even have contributed to it.

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    3. The £12k was a drop in the ocean compared to the overall cashflow problem CAMRA was experiencing. And this was seen, whether rightly or wrongly, as the most effective way of taking forward the Conference resolution that CAMRA should do more to combat the anti-drink lobby. CAMRA's remit will inevitably change over time - it can't be forever stuck in 1972 when the neo-Prohibitionists were no more than a cloud the size of a man's hand.

      Incidentally, can I remind people (not you specifically) that the comment facility is not provided as a platform for off-topic political grandstanding.

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    4. Fair last point our lad, but Public Health England (PHE) is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, so if we criticise its actions, then we are unavoidably attacking the gummint. It's a fine line at times.

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  2. "If drinks producers and retailers want to see where they will stand in the eyes of officialdom in twenty years’ time, they have only to look at the tobacco industry."
    Sales of and profit from selling tobacco have increased gradually over the last twenty years and tobacco shares are included in every no ethical portfolio. To paraphrase Caligula "I don't care if they hate me so long as they buy from me"

    On your main point: the advice to have drink free days has been around for many years and I think that there is good medical evidence that giving the liver a "rest" does minimise damage to it. But that probably only applies at higher levels of drinking and I doubt that it would make much difference to a seven pints a week man.

    I have tried to stick to two or three alcohol free days a week for over a decade and, despite being a heavy drinker on the other days, my liver function is fine. (

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    1. Yes, the alcohol industry won't disappear by any means, but they will be treated as pariahs.

      If there was a specific fund that concentrated on "unethical" stocks, such as alcohol, tobacco, armaments and fossil fuels, I'd happily invest in it.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie15 September 2018 at 17:09

      David,
      Yes, “sales of and profit from selling tobacco have increased gradually over the last twenty years” but that’s not from countries like ours that are plagued by “the Health Lobby”.
      Nearly 80% of the world’s one billion smokers now live in low- and middle-income countries, a figure that continues to increase.
      As smoking rates decline in the west, the tobacco industry is pouring marketing resources into developing countries “in particular trying to draw in young people” we are told.

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    3. Work-free days are infinitely more important to health than alcohol-free ones. Why doesn't the fricking Government put its weight behind those?

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    4. Most people do have two work free days a week, Timbo, and many like me have eight.

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    5. As stated above, I do not want this to become an off-topic political debate, but it must be pointed out that the present government has made a major contribution to reducing the number of work-free days by achieving the lowest unemployment rate for over forty years. Despite Brexit ;-)

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    6. Aye, my point is, that there are things which impact health far more adversely than a few drinks in a day, and many poor blighters would love a couple of days respite from these each week. Stress - whatever its cause - for instance would be one. That might be struggling to pay debts, or trying to care for relatives while holding down a grinding job. Why single out a few snifters?

      David is right, most people do get weekends off, and most people have alcohol-free days too. However, many do not in both cases. If you do a highly-skilled, niche, high value-added job, then your boss will often try and wring every last minute out of you if he or she can.

      Maybe I'm being unfair on PHE. Perhaps they have some strategy aimed at de-stressing folks' lives, but I haven't caught much about it so far. A couple of pints and a few laughs at the pub work wonders on the other hand.

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    7. Point of order, Peter: Brexit hasn't happened yet. But lots of people make that mistake :-)

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    8. But the phrase "despite Brexit" is routinely bandied about by the BBC and other news media. And, of course, before the referendum, the Remain campaign gave us dire warnngs of the short-term consequences of a Leave vote, virtually none of which have come to pass. It seems that, for diehard Remainers, any bad economic news is immediately blamed on Brexit, while the response to any good news is "we haven't left yet".

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    9. Well, at least these recommended units were nowt to do wi' EU, nor the smoking ban, nor MPPU. In fact, didn't they try to stop that? For my money, neither did some directive order football TV in most of our pubs either. We'll just have to see how it all turns out across the board though I suppose.

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    10. Maybe not, but the EU is increasingly taking an interest in such matters. Their Tobacco Products Directive mandates a very harsh regulatory regime for vaping, while they have also been considering harmonisation of alcohol duty systems and drink-drive limits, in the latter case obviously downwards.

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    11. We should have at least one day a month when smoking or vaping in pubs is compulsory. We need to do something to rid ussens of these fruit flies -beer flies or vinegar flies as some call them - midges, and dog fleas, which plague so many pubs these days. Nicotine is a damned good insecticide and repellent. However, the UK has an opt-out on Home Office matters, as I recall, which would probably cover drink-drive limits.

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  3. Very interesting article. It suggests that we really need to take on the junk science that many of these precepts are based on plus the complete fantasy of the whole idea of units. The problem, as ever, is getting the message published in an organ with a high circulation/readership. I'll have a go. Start locally and work up.

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    1. Too true doc. Interesting that there's apparently no international consensus on these safe limits and all. There's a clue there I reckon. Good piece well written, as you say.

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