Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Don't say I didn't warn you

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.


  1. I tend to agree, CM, and go slightly further. Alcohol Concern is techically a charity that is almost entirely funded by the government, and whose main raison d'être is to lobby that same government. In other words, it's a quango with a charitable tax break. I regard that as corrupt.

  2. " Under World Health Organisation guidelines, the UK government is obliged .........."
    Who voted for WHO to speak on our behalf and why should Government be obliged to obey an unelected body.

    Oh yes --- Who funds WHO?

  3. So the lefties who brought in discrimination and denormalisation of smokers on a massive scale are going to see the same thing done to them in the arena of alcohol control, bans and denormalisation. Splendid and fair how things work out in the long run.

  4. "Alcohol Concern is techically a charity that is almost entirely funded by the government, and whose main raison d'être is to lobby that same government."

    Nice to have you aboard, Nev. How do you think the smoking ban was funded?

    Listen, you can agree or not about what has gone under the bridge, but I've been warning you guys about this for 6 or 7 years now. You could have made it easier on yourselves by objecting to the methods used then, but at least you're starting to work out what some of us have known for a long time.

    Get busy and get active, it's a very short timescale between mild suggestion of legislation and it actually happening when the groundwork has been laid (which it most definitely has in your case).

    Complacency is a demon, believe me.

  5. Indeed. One can't help but feel a little satisfaction that the bandwagon is now building up speed and those drinkers that sneered about "filthy smokers" only 48 months ago, will soon see measures being put in place that they did not ask for - (very soon, in fact - I've already seen, "These alcohol control measures seem extreme but so did the smoking ban at first and that is universally popular" more than once, so they are using the ban as a precedent which will shave some years off their plans). I also look forward to those people seeing what it feels like to be told how great something is and to have no outlet for their voice in the media or through your elected representatives. I'm sorry - I love pubs and beer, but in many ways seeing those braying, blinkered, selfish idiots get their just desserts would almost make up for the inevitable economic carnage that is to come.

  6. From Dick Puddlecoats blog;

    XX Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests XX

    WHAT is a "vested interest"? In theory this could be argued to mean, that NO ONE who drinks as much as the odd sherry at New year, can have any say in this.

  7. Knickers-unnecessarily-in-a-twist time? Yes, there are groups of highly vocal anti-alcohol extremists out there but are they really such a great threat? They have jumped on the bandwagon created by (legitimate) concern over the growth of drink-fuelled unsocial behaviour and a big jump over recent years in alcohol related medical problems. But the vast majority realise that there are both social and health benefits to sensible drinking and that there is no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater by implementing the ideas of the neo-prohibitionists. What is needed is effective lobbying for a sensible approach to what is, after all, a genuine problem. The trouble is that there seems to be nobody capable of doing this; the alcohol producers are hardly impartial, and organisations such as CAMRA are too weakly led to be effective. Even so, no Government is going to take measures which will lose votes on a huge scale. The smoking ban is not a precedent; there were probably as many (if not more) in favour as against. And I've not heard of anyone who got sick from passive drinking.

  8. @Anon: People were saying much the same about tobacco thirty years ago. And they were wrong.

    We're already seeing it, with above-inflation duty increases, supertax on strong beer, effectively mandatory health warnings and the prospect of minimum pricing in Scotland.

    We're not going to see Prohibition, or anything like it, but over the coming decades we will get a steady drip-drip of measures to make alcoholic drinks more expensive, less available and less socially acceptable. In a sense, it's not so much the specific measures, but the general climate of "denormalisation" that they promote.

    And, as alcohol becomes less socially acceptable, its consumption will increasingly retreat into the private sphere, so it will be a double whammy for pubs.

    And you've never heard of anyone who got sick from passive drinking? What about women beaten up by drunken partners, or people killed and injured by drunk drivers?

  9. Oh dear, Dick, I haven't come aboard anything; I've known about this for several years, partly through CAMRA and partly by keeping my eyes open, but certainly uninfluenced by any warnings from you. Still, if you're now singing from the same hymn sheet as me, you're welcome!

  10. Pubs should view this as an opportunity rather than a problem -as, by providing creche facilities and selling food and coffee, they successfully did following the smoking ban. I must admit I thought I'd never see the day when grown men would be happy to be told they could only congregate for drink and chat in sterile rooms in the company of screaming children smearing chicken nuggets and ketchup down their tee-shirts. But hey, I was wrong. That's what old age and death are for. Being continually wrong is disheartening and eventually, you've had enough.

  11. Curmudgeon:

    I take your point about passive drinking. The point was badly put. The claim about passive smoking is that almost any level can have deleterious effects; but nobody ever suffered from passive sensible drinking.
    The analogy with tobacco can only be taken so far; it is widely understood that moderate amounts of alcohol can have beneficial health effects even if excessive consumption can be damaging (pity nobody seems clear about what constitutes excess). I have never heard it suggested that there is a level of smoking which is beneficial to health; even those who argue for its role in relieving stress do not go so far as to say that there are physiological benefits.
    The problem is getting the message across that sensible drinking is at worst harmless and at best can be a good thing. Who other than Big Alcohol, with its obvious vested interests, is capable of doing this?

  12. Yes, obviously major drinks producers will be seen as having a vested interest.

    So what we really need is an independent body representing responsible consumers of alcoholic drinks to stand up for their interests.

    Now, let me think, who could fulfil that role?

  13. I don't know who could; but I do know an organisation which couldn't!

  14. Anon: Don't cum the health benefits canard, didn't you know there's no safe level of alcohol consumption?

    RedNev: Err, I haven't started singing from your sheet, I've been battling all authoritarian lifestyle hectors for a hell of a long time. You just insulate yourself to one area and believe that you have a chance of winning like that. Which you don't if you can't recognise the wider picture, 'divide and conquer', I think it's called. Your future woes are inextricably linked to the successful anti-tobacco campaigns, simple as that. CAMRA seeing a threat? Are you serious?

  15. Dick Puddlecote:

    Isn't the misspelling of "come" as "cum" found only in the context of pornography? (So I've heard)
    Don't do irony in a blog: not everybody will realise it.

  16. It's a London thing, Anon. A remnant of the Second World War demob times. As in "Don't cum the old soldier wiv me, china".


  17. Dick Puddlecote - That's Your excuse. Mind you, I guess most Londoners can't spell.


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