Saturday, 8 October 2016

How public health and temperance campaigners exploit children

Prohibition and temperance aren't the children of health concerns but rather the offspring of a certain type of christian judgmentalism. But perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that today's dominant religious faith - heath and wellbeing - has adopted the moralism of a previous age in its desire to have us all live a dull but righteous life so we can live forever. How could you indulge in pleasures that may, as a side effect, shorten your life?

And just as with all good religions, our Church of Public Health creates its myths and legends as convenient fairy tales designed to sway the gullible to the cause of living forever. Here's a classic:
Alcohol is being sold at "pocket money" prices across the UK, with products commonly bought by underage drinkers among the cheapest, research by a campaign group suggests.

The Alcohol Health Alliance said white cider - sold for as little as 16p per unit of alcohol - is favoured by teens.
The story in question combines two entirely separate and essentially unrelated pieces of information into a scary story about how young girls are being sucked into a terrible world of self-destruction, harm and death by the purveyors of booze at those 'pocket money prices'.

The first piece of information tells us that:
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study of its 35 member countries found that 31% of 15-year-old girls reported having been drunk at least twice, compared with 26% of boys (which is in line with the OECD average).
Note the wording - 'drunk at least twice'. What the research tells us is that some girls self report that they have been drunk on two or more occasions. And that seven out of ten girls say they haven't been drunk on even two occasions. The rest are the rebels who maybe drank a few glasses at Christmas or shared a half bottle of vodka at a sleepover. There really isn't anything to get worried about in these statistics. And let's be clear that they've absolutely nothing at all to do with the other information in the story - the bit about 'pocket money prices':
The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), a grouping of more than 40 organisations including medical colleges and health charities, surveyed the cost of 480 products on sale in major supermarkets and off-licences in London, north-east England, north-west-England and Scotland.

Its research found both Asda and Tesco to be selling perry at 19p per unit, while the same drink was available at Sainsbury's for 22p per unit. Morrisons was selling cider at 20p per unit.
Now let's set these temperance folk a challenge. Take a 15 year old girl, give her some pocket money and tell her to go and buy some of that 19p per unit perry in ASDA. It's not going to happen, there is no way they'll be able to blag their way through this one. The girl will not succeed in buying any sort of booze, not even cheap white cider at 'pocket money prices' in any supermarket (or for that matter off license). If the 15 year old girls are drinking it's because they've bought in illegally from a smuggler, stolen it or most like been bought it by someone old enough to make the purchase. And, as the distinct lack of drunk 15 year old girls staggering round our streets tells us, this really isn't common or much of a problem.

So, given that the evidence is that booze at 'pocket money prices' isn't driving high levels of teenaged bozziness, why are the Alcohol Health Alliance and other fussbuckets so keen to make out that it is? Here's a clue:
The chairman of the AHA, Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "In spite of a government commitment to tackle cheap, high-strength alcohol, these products are still available at pocket money prices."

Calling for an increase in duty on cider, Prof Gilmore said: "In addition, we need minimum unit pricing. This would target the cheap, high strength products drunk by harmful drinkers whilst barely affecting moderate drinkers, and it would leave pub prices untouched."
This isn't about those girls at all, it's about 'high strength products drunk by harmful drinkers' who the AHA, as good temperance folk, heartily disapprove of. Now some of these people are pretty unsavoury and can cause problems with their behaviour but they're still adults with choice and agency. And making the booze more expensive won't change much - except they'll eat less, skip the rent (and get evicted) and spend more time panhandling other folk for the wherewithal to buy the newly expensive white cider. The more creative ones might make their own - it's really easy.

What the AHA are doing here is playing the 'for the children' card by hinting that children are the ones supping the white cider and therefore we should do something to stop them. Hence the reference to 'pocket money' and the talk about girls - we're having our emotional strings played here by organisations with over 100 years spent perfecting the demonisation of drinking. Prof. Gilmore and his fellow fussbuckets don't just want to stop 'harmful drinking', what they want is to denormalise drinking, to make it something banned, controlled, taxed, price-fixed and confiscated. They want to take you pleasure away simply because they disapprove of that pleasure.

And to achieve this end, the Church of Public Health will conflate unrelated data, will exaggerate research results, will speak of exceptional cases as if they were commonplace, and - when all this fails - they'll just straight up lie.


1 comment:

Curmudgeon said...

And nowhere in Britain can you go in a shop and buy "a unit of alcohol" for 16p.