One of the recurring themes of this blog has been the way the tactics and themes of the tobacco control movement are increasingly being adopted in the parallel campaign against alcohol. There was a prime example of this in the recent joint conference held in Glasgow involving ASH Scotland and Alcohol Focus Scotland, which aimed “to consider the progress of alcohol and tobacco control and explore what each sector might learn from the other.” One noteworthy feature of this was that, as has been the practice of the tobacco control lobby for many years, no alcohol industry representatives were allowed to attend or express an opinion.
The antismoking lobby have been predictably up in arms over the news that tobacco company BAT have been engaged in lobbying against the proposed ban on tobacco displays in shops. Now, you might wonder what is the problem with that – surely an organisation engaged in a legal business is entitled to speak out in defence of that business, and expect that its view will be taken into consideration.
However, as Dick Puddlecote points out, this is apparently completely out of order. Under World Health Organisation guidelines, the UK government is obliged to ensure the drafting of all legislation is free from tobacco industry influence. So, in a democratic society that supposedly believes in free speech (yeah right, I know…), bodies with a legitimate interest in an issue are simply to be gagged and any opinions they may have discounted by law.
It’s not such a big jump to seek to apply exactly the same principle to alcohol. We’ve already had the anti-drink lobby taking their bats home because alcohol industry representatives have been allowed too much influence (i.e. any at all) in the formulation of government policies on alcohol, even though these are the most restrictive since the days of Lloyd George. Despite being an industry that provides employment for millions, and whose products give pleasure to untold millions more responsible consumers, in their view anyone engaged in that business simply should not be listened to.
Even if you run the most funky, low-carbon, organic, Fairtrade, recycling-friendly micro brewery in the world, you won’t have a voice. Your opinions won’t count. You will be expected to shut up, do as you’re told and uncomplainingly accept any restrictions that are imposed on you. As far as the anti-drink lobby are concerned you’re engaged in a “toxic trade” just as surely as Diageo and InBev, and they’re not interested in any kind of dialogue or accommodation with you.