Danger: health warning

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcohol consumption, Alcoholic beverage

Alcohol consumption
The demonisation of pubs by the health lobby is a shameful example of the very worst sort of illiberal hectoring from society’s nannies and self-proclaimed moral guardians.

That some of these ‘experts’ knowingly use misinformation to make their point, safe in the knowledge that some sections of the mass media will take their statements at face value because they sound plausible, is frankly wicked. Short on facts and long on prejudice, they should know better, and I fear that they do — but they persist in their highly motivated deception.

It is hard to feel anything other than justifiable anger when another teetotal quack appears on a breakfast news sofa to tell the nation that alcohol consumption is rocketing, and fuelling a nation of feckless high-street hoodlums.

Alcohol consumption has fallen

In truth, alcohol consumption in the UK is 16% lower than in 2004, and has fallen for six out of the past eight years. That’s not to say that some sections of our society don’t have alcohol problems. But does anyone sensible truly believe that, while we’re drinking a sixth less alcohol than we were a decade ago, hospital admissions “for which drink was the main cause” are up by 40% over the same period?

That’s an official NHS figure, but of course the key variable in this statistic is the subjective decision by the attending medic of whether or not to classify an admission as primarily alcohol-related — a verdict laden with political significance.

And even if alcohol can be proven to be the causal factor, is any clipboard-wielding hospital administrator bothering to record the answer to the essential follow-up question: where was the patient consuming their alcohol?

Pubs themselves are taking a proportionally smaller feed from the shrinking alcohol reservoir — just 30% by volume. Most are finding that alcoholic drinks represent an ever-declining share of their retail mix, as enforced diversification means that things like food, coffee, soft drinks, entertainment, events and accommodation become increasingly important to their business model.

The real danger

Unsupervised at-home or outdoor drinking of cheap supermarket booze, much of which is sold at below even the combined cost of duty plus VAT, is where the real health and societal danger lies.

If further evidence was required of this fact, the latest in the series of surveys of secondary schoolchildren in England last week revealed that just 1% of pupils who had obtained alcohol over a specified period had bought it from a pub. Some 19% had been given it by parents, 19% by friends, and 14% had taken it from home.

Maybe if the health lobbyists focused on addressing the 99% of cases in which children acquired alcohol away from the on-trade, and admitted pubs are part of the solution rather than the problem, they could do some genuine good.

Related topics: Legislation

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