Wednesday, 31 July 2013

"They wanted vodka" - a lesson in misplaced moral panic


Chris Snowdon samples an article about alcopops (remember them) from the BBC and notes that, for once, the article is considered and that it contains some pertinent statistics. Chris notes this one especially:

Consumption of alcohol, having reached a peak in 2000, is declining in the UK. The number of people who never drink is rising. Alcohol sales are falling, with a drop of as much as 6-10% in the past 12 months, according to retail analyst Mintel. 

We are a remarkably abstemious lot and none more so than today's young people. Far from the popularly imagined idea of endless binge drinking, collapsing in heaps and general dissolution, young people are like this:

 "The image of the younger drinker going out and getting drunk is not very cool anymore," 

And this impression - from the folk at Mintel who have no interest at all in manipulating or distorting statistics - is backed up by the evidence:

Men and women of all ages are slowly curbing their excesses and drinking in moderation, according to the annual survey from the Office for National Statistics, which covers England, Scotland and Wales.

It suggests that heavy drinking is falling, abstinence is rising, and young people are leading the drive towards healthier drinking.

The decrease among some groups even pre-dates 2002, with men aged 16-24 drinking 26 units a week on average in 1999 and just 15 units a week in 2009, according to the ONS figures.

However, it was the observations of one academic quoted in the article (OK he's a sociologist) that most struck me:

Sociologist Dr Alasdair Forsyth believes that even in the 1990s the impact of alcopops on young drinkers was greatly exaggerated. During his research in that period he asked young people what alcohol they had consumed and whether they became drunk on that occasion. 

"The proportion saying they were drinking [alcopops] increased but the proportion saying they were getting drunk decreased."

Forsyth and fellow researchers found vodka and white cider were the real culprits.

"It was the complete opposite of what was said in the panic," he argues. "The alcopops were too expensive for the teenagers. They wanted vodka. They weren't interested in lemonade." 

The sweetest irony in all this was that, had we not destroyed the alcopops market with misplaced moral panic, we might have had fewer drunks not more.


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