Beware of alcohol consumption hype

By Roger Protz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alcohol consumption Alcoholic beverage

Despite what the so-called ‘experts’ say, alcohol consumption in the UK is falling, writes Roger Protz.

We are all going to hell in a handcart, according to the ‘experts’. In all the years I have been writing about beer, I have never known such a torrent of reports from ‘experts’ about the British addiction to booze and its impact on the nation’s health.

I don’t want to minimise the problem, but I have difficulty squaring what the so-called ‘experts’ are saying with the facts. Are we a nation of hopeless toss-pots, pouring vast amounts of alcohol down our collective throat?

Or is there a different picture, and if so would it not be sensible for the country’s media to check the facts before bombarding us with possibly misleading information?

When I last looked, Britain was ranked number 16 in the world for alcohol consumption. Czechs, Germans, Austrians, Irish and even Kiwis leave us gasping in their wake.

But have things got worse? Have the Brits increased the amount they drink in recent years, while the rest of the world becomes increasingly moderate and looks on the drunken hordes of the British Isles with mounting distaste?

Some important statistics were produced last week that cast doubt on the ‘experts’. It seems curious that I haven’t seen these stats in any of the newspapers or on the rolling news programmes that are so quick to report on alcohol abuse, with the obligatory pint of beer being pulled in the background.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) reported last week that the consumption of alcohol in Britain had fallen for the sixth year out of the past eight years and the level of
consumption is now 16% lower than in 2004.

Now you may think the BBPA has an axe to grind where drinking is concerned, but the statistics come from that most sober of bodies, HM Revenue & Customs. HMRC’s annual alcohol tax returns show that 2012 was the first year since 1998 that consumption has dropped below eight litres per head per year.

Certain newspapers and the BBC’s Panorama suggest we spent the first decade of the 21st century drinking ourselves into an early grave. I’m sorry to ruin a good scare story, but it seems — on the contrary — that we are drinking less.

And the biggest fall in consumption is among young people in the age range of 18 to 24. Will this stop the same newspapers and TV programme repeating their images of young people falling down in the streets every weekend? Of course not: you must never let the sober facts get in the way of a good drunk-and-riot story.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that there wasn’t mayhem on some streets in a few towns a decade ago. The problem has declined and even disappeared as a result of the change in the licensing laws that allowed pub and bar owners to vary their opening hours.
What the country’s media lazily calls “24-hour drinking” — there’s no such thing — has had the opposite effect of what the doomsters predicted. People no longer accelerate their drinking to beat the 11pm curfew. They were encouraged to act in a more sensible manner and they have responded positively.

Let me make it clear that I am completely in favour of sensible and moderate drinking. Alcohol is a good friend and a bad enemy. But it would clearly be useful if the ‘experts’ could agree on what is and what is not sensible.

The reason I place the word ‘experts’ in quote marks is because too many of them have been giving misleading and confusing information. I have lost count of the number of times ‘experts’ have told us that drinking one glass of red wine a day is positively good for our general health and well-being only for another bunch of so-called ‘experts’ to tell us a few weeks later that red wine is a killer.

Who do you believe? The reliability of ‘experts’ was shot down in flames a couple of years ago when the Radio 4 Today programme interviewed one of the people who drew up the recommended units of alcohol we are all told to stick to.

This particular expert said that back in the 1980s the Government called on a panel of experts to draw up the recommended units and to do it PDQ. The expert cheerfully admitted that he and his colleagues, under intense pressure, just plucked figures out of the air that had no scientific basis whatsoever.

Ever since, we’ve been told to stick to 21 units a week for men and 14 for women, regardless of the fact that people who weigh 14 stone and measure six feet in height can drink rather more than those who weigh in at eight stone and struggle to reach five feet six.

Beware the Greeks bearing gifts, they say. To which I would add, beware the ‘experts’ bearing statistics. Enjoy your pint... while you can.

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