Monday 31 July 2017

The hidden agenda of the drinking guidelines

An increasing sight in town centres
The back page of August's What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, features an article written by Christopher Snowdon on how alcohol units are unscientific nonsense. This is a theme I have covered here before several times, such as here in January last year.

What motivates people to tell untruths about alcohol? I partly addressed this point in March 2013. I get the impression they don't actually consider themselves to be liars, because alcohol is surrounded by loads of fallacious preconceptions and myths that have widely been accepted as true. I have noticed that the suggestion of having a drink sometimes provokes a roguish reaction from some adults, particularly among those who don't drink very often, as though they are doing something slightly naughty. Given that mindset, along with the dual myths of a drink crisis in the UK and a genuine, but mostly baseless, fear about going into town and city centres at weekends, some people are persuaded that it's not just naughty, but genuinely dangerous.

In the real world, alcohol consumption is in slow decline in the UK, and my own experience of various town and city centres is that you are in no more danger than when you go out shopping in the same areas in the daytime. The various anti-alcohol killjoys usually insert a sentence into their propaganda to the effect that they don't want to stop people enjoying alcohol (although some of them really do, but they can't afford to be that frank) or destroy the great British pub, but then propose various measures that will do precisely both of those things. 

They seem incapable of distinguishing between drinking and getting drunk. If the anti-alcohol brigade took the trouble to wander around a few pubs at weekends, they might be surprised to see how few drinkers are falling over, getting into fights or otherwise behaving badly. Nearly all enjoy their drinks, chat to their friends and go home peaceably when time is rung.

As I wrote in 2013:
I have sympathy for anyone who has suffered from drunken aggression, but the fact is that violent drunks are not transformed by alcohol: they are simply violent people who have learnt to associate aggression and violence with drink - a learnt behaviour, not caused by drink. Blaming alcohol for bad behaviour is also a convenient excuse if trying to appear apologetic after sobering up, or when in court.
A year or two ago, a local lout who had launched unprovoked attacks on several people one evening blamed his disgraceful behaviour on alcohol in an attempt to distance himself from his actions. I wrote a letter to the local paper making clear my view as an experienced drinker that such a defence did not stand up - that the violence is in the person and not created by alcohol - but it wasn't printed, probably because it was too obvious which court case I was referring to and could have risked a libel case.

As I've said many times before, only a fool would claim alcohol is a risk-free activity whatever the circumstances, but that is true of many other activities. As far as I know, no one campaigns against all driving because some idiots drive far too fast, or after too many drinks: we try to deal with the bad behaviour and let everyone carry on in the controlled environment of the road. The anti-alcohol campaigners would probably argue that's all they're trying to do with alcohol, but they are not: the main weapons they propose are rationing by minimum price and taxation, abolishing advertising and restricting licensing hours. Nothing even vaguely comparable is proposed for drivers and the car industry.

Among legal activities, only gun ownership and tobacco are more controlled. At the CAMRA AGM in 2008, I attended a discussion group about the neo-prohibitionists. It was explained to us that they weren't a new phenomenon, but they had been emboldened by the success of the smoking ban nine months earlier. With that ban, alongside "New" Labour's alcohol duty escalator which was still in place, they must have thought their time had come. It hadn't: the escalator was scrapped and duty was even cut for a couple of years; the extension of the smoking ban that some have campaigned for and fully expected hasn't materialised; and it seems the appetite among politicians to micro-manage people's social activities has diminished. Or, more likely perhaps, they simply feel there are no votes in it. No one likes preachy killjoys.

The Chief Medical Officer of England can use her public position to burble nonsense on Radio 4 about when she's at a dinner party, she calculates whether it would be sensible to have a second glass of wine. Naturally I didn't believe her for a moment because it's such a silly thing to say, and regrettably the interviewer didn't challenge it. However, despite such nonsense, because she and her neo-prohibitionist allies have clout and the ear of government, there are no grounds for complacency.


  1. And, of course, every time you reduce the alcohol guidelines, you automatically increase the number of "problem drinkers"...

  2. Nev. Good piece. Would I be OK to use an edited version in our next Branch Magazine, subject to space of course? If agreeable would you like to see the edit first? Full credit of course.

    1. Cheers, TM, I'm glad you like it - feel free. I trust your editing although, if you do use it, I'd be interested to have a copy of the printed mag at some point.


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