Friday, 8 January 2016

Why the new drink limits are not just wrong but stupid

All set to break public health boozing guidelines

The government, in the form of the shockingly disingenuous Chief Medical Officer, has announced new guidelines on 'safe limits' for drinking alcohol.

...the new rules now state that both men and women should drink no more than 14 units over the course of three days or more. This is the equivalent of a bottle and a half of wine over the course of a week.

The rules also say that it's best not to "save up units" and drink them all in one go and to make sure you have alcohol-free days.

I don't intend to dwell on how these new guidelines are based on misleading (which is being kind) presentation of science - suffice it to say there's a pretty comprehensive debunking of the basis for the CMO's new guidelines from Chris Snowden.

Instead, I'm going to tell you why the new guidance is stupid. Utterly stupid. It's not just that these new guidelines won't change anything except for a few more very moderate or occasional drinkers to tip over into teetotallerhood and for the nannying fussbuckets to have a new a very big figure of 'hazardous' drinking to beat us up with. No it's that nearly everyone is going to completely ignore the guidance because they think it's a load of nonsense.

A bit like this - from piss take website UlsterFry:

The entire population of Northern Ireland fully intends to ignore the new, more stringent, alcohol limits unveiled by the Department of Health today, a survey made up by The Ulster Fry has revealed.

According to the new guidelines both men and women should limit themselves to 14 units a week, spread over at least three sessions. For the uninitiated, 14 units is the equivalent of not very many pints of beer, a Sunday afternoon amount of wine or a thimbleful of Buckfast.

However most people we spoke to weren’t too worried about the changes. “It seems men are limited to the same as women,” commented Harry Snatter, a 34 year draught excluder from Lurgan. “That’s fine with me, as my missus drinks like a bastard, in fact I’ll probably have to start drinking through the week to keep up with her.”

Every pub, bar, cafe and occasional drinking establishment will contain someone who will tell you - for absolute free - that the guidelines are "complete bollocks from a bunch of nannies". And trust me on this one, people won't believe the slightly unhealthy looking woman on the telly promoting the new abstemious guidance and will believe the bloke in the public bar. Mostly because the bloke in the bar is believable when he says "it probably not wise to get blasted every night -pace yourselves" whereas the crabby nanny on the box telling you that more than two sips of cooking sherry will give you breast cancer - even if you're a fella - is about as believable as Leeds United getting promoted in 2016.

As with everything about public health, it's enthusiasts kill successful programmes. UK alcohol consumption has been falling for a decade and while this doesn't seem to feed through to figures on alcohol harm (raising a doubt or two about whether drinking is, in any way, a public health issue - a problem for the whole population) it is testament to how effective the combination of sensible advice and a liberal approach to licensing the juice has been. Now, with this new temperance agenda - "risks from alcohol start from any level of regular drinking" as the BBC puts it - the public health people have guaranteed that their words and advice will get the sort of response usually reserved for opposition centre forwards and referees. Only maybe not quite so polite.

And we'll carry on drinking because the downside risks - a very small chance that we might have a very small increased risk of cancer - are vastly outweighted by the pleasure of drinking. We like alcohol, it has been with us longer than history and our bodies are pretty good at processing it in quantities far higher than the piddlingly small amounts in the new guidelines.

In the end lets recall that Churchill, that paragon of temperance value lived to 90 and the old Queen Mum got past 100:

As Queen Mum she had a steady pattern in her alcohol consumption that she held onto till her dying days in 2002. Major Colin Burgess, the personal attendant to the queen, describes this in the book Behind Palace Doors. According to Burgess Elizabeth would start at noon with a cocktail with 1 part gin and 2 parts Dubonnet, topped off with a slice of lemon or orange. The official name is a Zaza cocktail or a Dubonnet cocktail, but thanks to Elizabeth everyone around the world now calls it the Queen Mother cocktail.

At lunch the Queen Mum would drink red wine and after the meal a glass of port. According to Burgess she also insisted that the people around her joined her. When anyone dared to ask for water, Elizabeth would ask incredulously: “How can you not have wine with your meal?” At 6 in the afternoon it was what the Queen Mother would call ‘Magic Hour’ and she had herself a martini. And at dinner she would drink 2 glasses of Veuve Cliquot, a pink champagne. 

While trying to hold tight to this drinking schedule, her duties as queen and later Queen Mother didn’t always allow it. That’s why Elizabeth instructed her staff to hide bottles of gin in hatboxes when she was on the road, so she could have a secret sip whenever she wanted. As the Queen Mum herself once said: “I couldn’t get through all my engagements without a little something.”

That sounds about right! Up yours fussbuckets. Let's drink to a great 2016.



asquith said...

Me, welcoming these guidelines.

Trofim said...

Good old Queen Mother! That's cheered me up a bit!

Dan said...

Talk obvious bollocks on one or two topics, and your advice on all topics is assumed also to be bollocks, regardless of whether it is or not.

This is the sad fate that shall befall these particular nannying fussbuckets; they'll end up with nobody bothering even to listen at all, even to the most sensible of advice, simply because most of the time they talk bollocks and waste your time.