Anti booze narks are whining themselves to death
In one of the songs on his famous Graceland album Paul Simon uses the tongue-in-cheek line “why don’t we get together and call ourselves an institute?”. The anti-alcohol lobby is obviously a big fan because it appears to be using this as the basis for its PR strategy.
Any time members get together to peddle their message they call it a summit or a forum or something similar that will offer the media promise of serious discussion and new ideas. There have been three such events quite recently.
On September 6 they held a “panel discussion” (comprising a group of people who share their views) to add gravitas to a media conference calling for changes to wine tax.
Three weeks later they dramatically held their own “alcohol tax forum” to call for changes to wine tax and protest about not being invited to the Government’s own tax forum.
And just last week a “forum” considered plans to increase the minimum price of alcohol and, as The Age reported it, discussed “ways of building on the momentum of last month’s tax summit”.
They may have held a summit to discuss the implications of a new study by the US Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming that moderate alcohol consumption is one of four healthy lifestyle behaviours that help people live longer (along with exercise, a healthy diet and never having smoked), but if so I missed the publicity and resulting coverage. But I digress.
The common link is that all three events lacked any new ideas and the interviews again fell back on clichés and claims that, to quote a more-famous song, “ain’t necessarily so”.
We are constantly told, for example, that the social cost of alcohol is $36 billion a year. Says who? Says one report released by the (now) Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education. And who says not? Access Economics for one; the economic consultants dismissed the figure as grossly overstated and based on flawed research that “should have no part in informing health policy”.
Some in the lobby prefer to quote the figure of $15 billion generated by researchers Collins & Lapsley. However, economists subsequently concluded that the economic method used to calculate that figure was “meaningless” and the Henry Review expressed doubts about the methodology.
So neither figure is a fact, but through constant repetition they are becoming accepted (if contradictory) wisdom.
We also constantly hear the emotive claim that wine is cheaper than water. That depends on whether you are interested in valid comparisons. The cheapest wine – four-litre casks sold at discount liquor outlets – is cheaper per litre than some bottled water, depending on where you buy it, and is certainly cheaper than winemakers would like. But it’s not close to the cheapest water – you can get casks in supermarkets that work out at 40c a litre.
Publicity for the most recent “forum” added a new exaggeration to the mix with a claim that it takes “1000 to 1200” litres of irrigated water to produce one litre of wine. No it doesn’t. The reality is barely a third of that.
Such is the nature of this relentless campaign. Figures are bandied about without foundation and often the research quoted is not relevant to the claims in the headline. The Alcohol Policy Coalition recently called for higher alcohol taxes on the basis of a report “challenging the commonly-held belief that red wine is beneficial for preventing cardiovascular disease”. The logic escapes me.
In this case the attempt was doubly flawed as academic reviewers dismissed the research itself as “biased and unscientific”.
One reviewer noted: “It is shocking that an alliance of organizations, some of which are government agencies, would agree to stand behind such a deliberately misleading misrepresentation of the science addressing the effect of alcohol consumption on human health.”
More commonly, the anti-alcohol lobby is guilty of highlighting studies that support its views but dismissing as “industry spin” valid research that doesn’t. There is no better example than its vigour in highlighting acknowledged links between alcohol and the increased risk of some cancers, while denying research that shows potential cardiovascular benefits in moderate consumption. WFA’s response to all this is three-fold:
- We reject out of hand the implication that alcohol is the new smoking and must be treated as such, and the suggestion that alcohol producers have no role to play in attempting to address problems related to alcohol abuse in Australia.
- We remain frustrated that millions of dollars of public money are spent on researchers from a variety of disciplines to investigate this social/cultural problem yet the only answers they ever come up with are around price and restrictions. As a society we devote significant resources to addressing obesity through education rather than simply making unhealthy food more expensive, but we seem incapable of taking a similar approach with alcohol.
- We have seen no evidence that higher prices, by whatever means, are the answer to alcohol abuse, so cannot accept any response that would hurt wine producers and the vast majority of consumers who enjoy wine in moderation without delivering the required social benefits.
There will always be a small minority of people who abuse alcohol no matter what they know, just as there will be some who vehemently oppose its very existence.
The vast majority will continue to make their own choices based on what science tells them and what’s important to them.
As we learn more about alcohol’s health impacts, let’s honestly and openly pass all of those findings on to adult Australians and let them make their decisions.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…