Sunday 21 October 2007

Better safe than free

Excellent article in today's Sunday Times by Simon Jenkins.
Voltaire and John Stuart Mill insisted there should be an ideological chasm between disapproving an act and wanting it halted. In modern Britain this chasm has become a skip and a jump. Whatever we dislike we require the government to ban...

...There is a case for educating the public to eat, drink and smoke less, drive more carefully and not to rampage through town centres at night. But there must be a limit to the translation of disapproval into repression.
We really do seem to be sleepwalking into a totalitarian, health-and-safety-fascist society.

Plucking figures from the air

In the past week an academic study into drinking levels has received much media exposure. The highlighted a supposedly frightening level of “hazardous” drinking. But what does that mean? The definition of “hazardous” drinking is a man consuming more than 21 units of 10 mg of alcohol a week. That equates to nine pints of a typical 4.5% ABV beer such as Marston’s Pedigree or Old Speckled Hen. Now nobody would deny that heavy drinking does led to health problems, but to demonise what many would regard as light drinking is absurd.

However, according to a report in The Times, these so-called safe drinking limits were simply plucked out of the air without any scientific justification.

Subsequent studies found evidence which suggested that the safety limits should be raised, but they were ignored by a succession of health ministers.

One found that men drinking between 21 and 30 units of alcohol a week had the lowest mortality rate in Britain. Another concluded that a man would have to drink 63 units a week, or a bottle of wine a day, to face the same risk of death as a teetotaller.
Because of people’s widely varying weights and metabolism, it really is impossible to define any kind of hard-and-fast limit for “safe” drinking. But surely any public health campaign should concentrate on those drinking at levels that are genuinely hazardous, maybe at 100 units a week or more. And even at that level I’ve known people who have enjoyed good health well into old age despite consuming that kind of quantity on a regular basis.

Friday 12 October 2007

Common sense breaks out

It’s good to see at least one member of the medical profession inhabiting the real world. Professor John Ashton, Chief Medical Officer for Cumbria, has argued that the recommended levels of alcohol are unrealistic in some circumstances. He said that a limit of 10 pints a week was “a non-starter” for “northern industrial working folk”. Buy that man a pint!

Turn of the tide

Alcohol consumption in Britain has fallen for the second successive year and is now lower than it was five years ago. Clearly the recent licensing reforms haven’t unleased a wave of drunkenness across the country – indeed quite the opposite. This cannot be the only example of popular hysteria reaching its height well after the tide of behaviour has actually turned. Unfortunately, however, it seems to be the traditional pub that is bearing the brunt of the decline.

Monday 8 October 2007

Spy in the pub

The licensed trade seems to be under attack from all sides at the moment, the latest being a scheme to put undercover cops in pubs to catch bar staff serving drunks.

Now the law already says that drunks should not be served, and any responsible pub won’t serve anyone who is staggering around and incapable of coherent speech. But the risk is that, in the absence of any clear legal definition, this campaign will be used to target people who by any normal definition are merely “merry”. And it seems particularly unfortunate to be running it over the Christmas period when many pubgoers will be letting their hair down a bit more than normal.

Are we heading for a situation where simply going out for a drink is no longer acceptable, and the only form of alcohol consumption that is tolerated outside the house is having a couple of small drinks with a meal – provided, of course, that you won’t be driving in the next fortnight?