Monday 1 August 2011

Anti-Alcohol Lobby Is Taking Their Ball In

What Don Shenker thinks inside
our heads looks like
Thanks to Jay Brooks for finding this
The Anti-Alcohol Lobby is one of the most infuriating, self-righteous, hypocritical and, frankly, downright untruthful bunch of blinkered blitherers (outside of religious fundamentalism) one could ever have the misfortune to meet.

And the national press's insistence that it will pander to them without thought or balance is equally disturbing and unprofessional. 

Having been quite pleased with the Guardian's piece on health & alcohol not actually using a glass of beer for a change* I've now been utterly enraged by a piece in today's paper because it leaves several mahoosive issues surrounding balance, let's see if you can spot them?

"The drinks industry has secured heavy representation on a key government advisory working group on alcohol, putting it in a strong position to influence the coalition's forthcoming alcohol strategy.
Minutes of the Government and Partners Alcohol Working Group, which meets bi-monthly and is chaired by the Home Office director of drugs and alcohol, show that drinks industry membership has massively increased during the last year.
"Under the Labour government, there were a couple of industry representatives, but the coalition has swelled their numbers to the point where they make up almost half the membership of the committee, excluding the civil servants who represent government departments, such as health and the Treasury. Minutes of meetings before and after the election were obtained by the BBC's Panorama programme, which on Monday night will show the damage excessive drinking is wreaking on young people and asks why the government has not acted to raise alcohol prices.

"When the committee met in March 2009 – then called the Alcohol Strategy Delivery Group – eight of the members were non-civil servants and two of them were from the drinks industry – one from Bacardi and the other from retailers Morrisons. Five others came from a health background and the sixth represented local government.
"But the membership changed under the coalition government. In December 2010, there were 10 members from the drinks industry and seven others. In March this year, there were 10 members from the drinks industry, eight of whom were present, and six others – three of whom were in the room."

Did you see it? No? Yes? Well in case you didn't, it was the bit that says of the original committee: "eight of the members were non-civil servants and two were from the drinks industry."

Hmmm, anyone care to speculate on who those 'eight non-civil servants' might have been? My money is on anti-alcohol or 'concern' groups, but the piece doesn't address it, so we don't know (am ringing to find out later today, so will report back).

Also, is it just me that can't make the maths work in this piece either? First off they say that the drinks industry now makes up nearly half of the committee's membership, excluding civil servants, and then they say that they outnumber everyone else by three members - and it's not surprising that their presence looks a lot stronger when most of the 'other side' can't be arsed to turn up!

And it seriously infuriates me that the idea of balance, in making alcohol policy decisions, has so truly appalled the Grand High Poobah of neo-prohibitionists Don Shenker - chief executive of Alcohol Concern.

He is of the opinion that the ability to shape and define alcohol strategy lies firmly with him and his cronies, as evinced by his comment: "This government needs to decide if it wishes to truly get to grips with the significant levels of alcohol harms in the UK, or stick with the status quo of allowing the drinks industry to call the shots. It can't have it both ways." 

Are you kidding me? Let's get this straight, you don't want to engage with the drinks industry unless you outnumber them 8:2? Yet you will continue to disseminate and champion completely skewed and totally unethical policy formed from erroneous information?** 

Here are my top three favourites:

  • In 1987 the Government released daily guideline figures on drinking; it has since been admitted by one of the members of the Royal College of Physicians' original working party, figures were "plucked out of the air" in the absence of any clear evidence about how much alcohol constitutes a risk to health
  • The Government and EU have both been using research from a body called the Institute of Alcohol Studies as the basis for their alcohol policy, this is solely funded by THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT and has also been found by the Charities Commission to not fulfil the criteria to be a charity, despite saying so publicly
  • In April the ONS released statistics, based on flawed methodology, saying that women consuming excessive alcohol was on the rise, which isn't true, and several newspapers reported, several organisations shouted it and no- one retracted it once the ONS said, in very small letters: Oops we got that wrong, it's not actually, sorry!
So, I've decided that I'm going to come out with a couple of my own!
  • Since the Drink Aware Trust was formed there has been a drop in drinking levels in the UK
I can't actually prove that, but there is a faint correlation, so it must be true! Now, what else have I got? Oooh, here's a good one!

  • Drinking cask ale makes you 87.5% less inclined to have a punch-up; because in my experience in the last eight years of going to the Great British Beer Festival I've only ever seen one fight

But that's how the neo-pros work, not me, so I'm just using these random observations to make a point - because it appears to be how you get government to form policy. Hmm, maybe I should jack this in and become a lobbyist?

Anyway, I'm wandering off point here.

In no sane democracy should one standpoint hold the entire ground on a decision-making, and policy-forming, committee, but this seems to be what Don Shenker is saying should be so. Sorry Don, but democracy just doesn't work like that! 

Do you hear other areas of Government, like the Department of Health and its various lobbying grouper fish, saying: "We need to lower obesity in the UK, but we won't talk to any of the major fast-food chains, they will bamboozle us with fatty acids and sweet liquids!"

No, you hear them saying: "We need to engage with this industry to ensure that the minority that abuses their products have more safeguards put in place to protect them from themselves."

And here's the nub of it all, people like Don look at all of us who drink and see a 'problem', which he and his cult of neo-prohibinists believe can only be solved by treating us all like three-year-old children or dirty tramps with a can of Special Brew.

Sorry Don, I'm neither, and just because you know don't have the whole of government's ear to ensure they treat me like one of these, doesn't mean you should crying like a little girl about it.

And nor should the Guardian or any other area of the press be taking your complaints at face value either.

We, the demos, deserve better than that.

*sadly it was later pointed out to me on twitter that it was women and health, so of course they were drinking wine! Silly me...
**For an in-depth look at the total bollocks that's been coming out from the anti-alcohol lobby over recent years see Pete Brown's tireless work to look at reams of numbers and uncover the truth.


blowback said...

So the next time the UK government sets up a committee to investigate drugs, they should include representatives of the heroin, cocaine and marijuana growers, traffickers, dealers, etc. If I'm reading you right, you would be happy if they had majority representation on the committee.

Melissa Cole said...

a moot point, alcohol is legal, drugs aren't - be good for police arrest rates mind you!

Reuben Gray - TaleOfAle said...

Sounds like you could do with a drink Melissa. To calm your nerves etc, oh no wait alcohol actually turns people in to uncontrollable yobs bent on bringing down society or some such bollox.

Sometimes I can't stand the sheep mentality of the human species. What happened to us having free will and the ability to think for ourselves?

Cooking Lager said...

I'm glad to see you addressing the anti alcohol lobby.

However when you advocate in previous posts that their ought to be a minimum price you do pay into their hands.

Curmudgeon said...

If you regard alcohol per se as a toxic, dangerous substance, then of course you wouldn't allow any industry representatives to have a voice. This has long been the case with tobacco regulation. Inded, under World Health Organisation guidelines, the UK government is obliged to ensure the drafting of all relevant legislation is free from tobacco industry influence. No doubt before too long the same will apply to alcohol.

Vulpine said...

Excellent post Melissa. When I did my Health Psychology MSc, we were told that the 'five a day' fruit&veg rule was also plucked out of the air. Why can't the powers that be treat us like grownups?

On a related subject, I'd love to see you deal with the ludicrous advice given to pregnant women regarding alcohol, in particular the downright offensive "strikemark over picture of pregnant woman drinking" graphic that appears on bottles these days. :(

Curmudgeon said...

The "five a day" rule was apparently dreamed up by taking the average daily consumption of fruit and veg in California and doubling it.

bedfont said...

All this health stuff pumped out is mostly not peer reviewed science. Like the linking diseases with obesity when mostly it's clearly not a causal link but two symptoms of the same problem.

We had a load of tosh from Panorama tonight based on 2 or 3 losers. Again people who consume rot gut alcohol with bad diets and no doubt lashings of fizzy pop (might be worse per pint than beer - or hey why not invent a stat) in a perfect storm on their liver.

The aim appears to be to get the price up for those of us who drink to enjoy it - who care what is in our glass.

The meths drinkers who are the problem are not be affected as they'll keep drinking the cheapest rot gut and vodka they can find - which is even more unsafe.

Martyn Cornell said...

Note also Don S slipping this one in: "This government needs to decide if it wishes to truly get to grips with the significant levels of alcohol harms in the UK …" that's called a "presupposition", where you make a statement that assumes something to be true - in this case that there ARE "significant levels of alcohol harms in the UK" - and continue, in this case to demand something be done about it, without ever bothering to prove your presupposition is correct.

A similar piece of trickery is going on with the statement that Panorama will show "the damage excessive drinking is wreaking on young people and [ask] why the government has not acted to raise alcohol prices", which presupposes that part (b) - presupposed "cheap" alcohol prices - has a real causal connection with part (a), the damage allegedly caused by young people's excessive drinking. You've really got to watch the way these feckers manipulate the language they use.

Vulpine said...

Martyn - point (a) is misleading anyway, since the evidence seems to indicate that alcohol consumption amongst teens is falling, not rising (

Martyn Cornell said...

Vulpine - indeed. Here's the start of a report on that report:

"Industry efforts to combat the problem of under-age drinking appear to be paying off, with numbers falling substantially according to a new NHS study.

"The research found that the proportion of 11 to 16 year-olds who have drunk alcohol at least once in their life has fallen lately—from 51% in 2009 to 45% in 2010. It continues a downward trend since 2003, when the figure stood at 61%.

"The report also found that young people were becoming less tolerant of drinking among their friends. Fewer than a third (32%) think it is appropriate for people their own aged to drink alcohol once a week—compared to a figure of 46% in 2003.

"Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said: 'Our figures point to an increasingly intolerant attitude among young people in today’s society when it comes to the use of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. As well as a reduction in the percentage who say they partake in these behaviours, a shrinking number think that drinking and drunkenness is acceptable among their peers.'”