Sunday, 4 November 2012

How 'denormalisation' works...the case of drinking


You start with a little anecdote:

On a Friday night in the City a young professional woman collapses on the floor of the bar where she has been drinking with colleagues. She vomits, then passes out, and when an ambulance crew arrives they are verbally abused by the patient's friends, as the emergency service refuses to turn itself into a chauffeur to take the party home.

We are shocked especially when the article is accompanied by a rather old photograph of some young men drinking shots. How can this be happening! The writer continues with a sweeping statement - supported only by the anecdote - about (in this case) drinking:

This is all part of a British reality that refuses to conform to the cafe culture: the ideal that was supposed to emerge following the relaxation of UK licensing laws.

We are consuming more and more booze and it is killing us! Something must be done! But the evil producers of the deadly product are using their "power" to stop action:

The challenge in Scotland has been spearheaded by the Scotch Whisky Association – a trade body whose policy-making council is dominated by major drinks groups such as Johnnie Walker-owner Diageo, Pernod Ricard's Chivas Regal and Edrington, the home of Famous Grouse. Meanwhile, EU wine producers, concerned about how their exports to Britain will be hit, have launched their own campaign in Europe, albeit one that caused eyebrows to arch when the initial objection came from the seemingly unlikely quarter of Bulgaria. Conspiracy theorists even pondered if the former communist state challenged British policy with the assistance of the global drinks industry lobby.

See! Look! This international cartel of booze peddlers can buy a whole country's parliament!

At no point in this discussion is there any dispassionate appraisal of the facts. This is because the facts are not helpful. Take the uncomfortable fact that, for 16-24 year olds, 36% of men and 47% of women report not having had a drink at all in the week prior to survey and not a single young person reported drinking every day. And drinking rates are declining:

There has been a long-term downward trend in the proportion of adults who reported drinking in the week prior to interview. In 1998, 75% of men and 59% of women drank in the week prior to interview compared to 68% and 54% respectively in 2010. Similarly, the proportion of adults drinking on 5 or more days in the previous week has also decreased since 1998; in 1998 24% of men drank on 5 or more days in the previous weeks, compared to 17% in 2010, the equivalent figures for women were 13% and 10% respectively.

But you won't read this facts in a story promoting the denormalisation cause -  they prefer scare stories and sensationalism:

If one piece of common ground exists, it seems to be this: when it comes to Britain's out-of-control drinking culture, some one needs to call time, gentlemen and ladies, please.

Well no, that isn't common ground. We did something. We promoted an adult approach - great licensing flexibility, rises in duty and a public health strategy centred on "inform and persuade". And this has worked - consumption of alcohol has fallen and continues to fall.

For the denormalisers, the temperance campaigners and the prohibitionists to win the day it is necessary for drinking - or for that matter eating burgers or chocolate bars - to be causing a 'crisis' that requires something to be done. And since the statistics don't support the case, the nannying fussbuckets resort to anecdote. The next stage will be simply making stuff up. Just watch.


1 comment:

Curmudgeon said...

And people passing out in bars and throwing up on the pavement outside won't have been buying drink at less than 50p a unit anyway.