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12-08-2014, 09:22
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They're at it again.

Yesterday a cross-party committee of MPs (working with the professional liars at Alcohol Concern, natch) demanded that health warnings become mandatory on alcohol labels (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/11/alcohol-abuse-health-warnings-labels) in order to combat what they described as an 'epidemic' of alcohol related harm. It claimed the costs of alcohol abuse to society are "ever increasing". It also said we need a minimum unit price for alcohol and that the drink drive limit should be lowered.

There's so much misleading rhetoric, distortion by omission and outright falsehood here it's difficult to know where to start, but let's have a go.

The urgent need to combat drink driving is particularly ironic given that another report published yesterday - which obviously didn't get a fraction of the coverage that the anti-drink scaremongers did - reveals that drink driving deaths have just fallen to their lowest level since records began (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/General-News/Drink-drive-deaths-at-lowest-level-since-records-began).

This echoes the news last month that under age drinking has also fallen to the lowest level since records began (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/General-News/Underage-drinking-falls-to-record-low-Government-stats-reveal).

And overall, I'm confused as to how the cost of alcohol to society can be 'ever increasing' when alcohol consumption has fallen to its lowest level for twenty years (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/General-News/Alcohol-consumption-down-to-lowest-level-for-almost-20-years-new-figures-show). (Are you starting to see a pattern here yet?)

The '£21 billion' figure for the cost of alcohol to society continues to be quoted without question across the entirety of our news media. Yet here's the independent fact verification body FullFact discrediting the figure and declaring it unreliable over two years ago (https://fullfact.org/factchecks/UK_alcohol_abuse_misuse_cost_21_billion-6848). Two of the reasons they give for this criticism is that they were unable to find anyone who worked on calculating it, and no record of what calculations were used to arrive at this figure.

This is only the tip of the iceberg as to why this figure cannot be relied on, as I've described many times before (http://petebrown.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/answering-neo-prohibitionists-6-of-10.html). And on top of all that, if there has been an 18% fall in alcohol consumption since the figure was calculated ten years ago, how the hell can cost of that consumption to society still be as high as it was, let alone 'ever increasing'? (The figure was nudged up from £20 billion to £21 billion at random, with no reclaculation, even as alcohol consumption in the UK went into decline. FullFact were unable to find anyone at the Department of Health who could explain why.)

The biggest part of alcohol's cost to society according to this figure is the effects of alcohol related crime. Yet crime, especially violent crime, is - guess what? - in sharp decline. And the academics who have studied this decline cite a dramatic fall in binge drinking as the main reason for the fall in violent crime (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/General-News/Rising-cost-of-alcohol-could-explain-drop-in-serious-violence-rates-new-research-reveals). So I ask again - how can the cost of that crime to society not also be falling sharply?

When you read the arguments why we need to crack down on our binge drinking 'pandemic', these facts are conveniently ignored. They focus instead on the rise in alcohol related hospital admissions (which, as I'm fond of saying, is highly dubious (http://petebrown.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/sir-ian-gilmore-and-alcohol-concern-are.html)), and the rise in liver related health complaints. This latter is a cause for concern. But health costs are the smallest part of the £21 billion total. The argument simply falls apart under the mildest scrutiny - yet no one in mainstream media will give it that scrutiny.

There's no denying that a group of people are drinking harmfully. But the behaviour of that group is not in line with overall population trends. Measures that affect all drinkers - such as minimum pricing or restricted availability - not only punish moderate drinkers; they don't get to the heart of the problem for harmful drinkers. The problem is not the general availability of price of booze - it it was, the more affluent we are, the more harmfully we'd be drinking. In fact, the opposite is true: demographically, the less affluent you are, the more likely you are to suffer alcohol-related ill-health.

Health warnings on packs will do nothing to deter hardened drinkers. But they will help demonise alcohol for everyone else. Why is no work being done to discover why a minority are drinking increasingly harmfully when the vast majority of the population - every time they are asked - claim to be cutting down on their alcohol consumption, and falling booze sales suggest they are telling the truth?

The very people who claim to be most Concerned about Alcohol are betraying those most in need of their help every time they distort the true picture by suggesting we have a society-wide problem when any impartial analysis shows the problem is specific to certain groups, or at the very least shows the problem is in decline, not worsening. I honestly don't know how they can live with themselves.

Despite all its flaws, I've been told that in the autumn the anti-alcohol lobby will be launching a massive social media campaign to 'raise awareness' of the cost of alcohol to society using the hashtag #£21billion, despite knowing full well that that figure has been discredited, and that even if it was accurate when it was first 'calculated', it can't possibly still be right now. MPs from all parties are taking part in a campaign deliberately to misinform, mislead and create undue alarm.

Who'd have thought?

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