Tuesday 19 July 2011

Alcohol Control: J S Mill Rendered Irrelevant

A rather unexciting article on the BBC website today - regarding the efficacy of the government's 'nudge' policy - highlighted a more significant House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee’s report entitled Behaviour Change.

It is a discussional paper, part of which wrestles with the question, "when, and how, is it appropriate for the Government to intervene to change people’s behaviour?".

You see, government has already decided for itself that it is perfectly justified in telling you what to do, the problem has always been reconciling that with the widely-respected 'harm principle' as laid out by John Stuart Mill, which states:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
Because this has always been a bit of a stumbling block for bansturbators when it comes to obesity and alcohol. Despite weak attempts at installing fears of passive drinking and passive obesity, the public remain largely unconvinced.

Indeed, when it is pointed out that the public health lobby are coming after drinkers and fatties as soon as they're done with smoking on any comments thread, the smug responses fly in as to how alcohol and obesity harm only the individual hence the government can't touch them.

Time to think again, folks (Behaviour Change, page 107 [pdf], emphasis mine).

[...] some policies which restricted choice for some enabled choice for others. For example, restricting alcohol consumption through fiscal measures could restrict choice for some by making it more expensive to drink, but might enable choice for others who could walk home safely at night (assuming a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour as a result of reduced alcohol consumption). Certain restrictions on individual choice limit population harm and could be justified on Millian and many other grounds. Alcohol, smoking and obesity also harm the population by their cost to the NHS and, in the case of alcohol, increased rates of crime. It could therefore be argued that tackling these problems did prevent harm to others, so fell within the meaning of the ‘harm principle’.
Well, you didn't think they'd let a long dead philosopher's wisdom get in the way of their self-righteous crusades, did you?

That's the overweight totally screwed then and, as Chris Snowdon pointed out yesterday, those attacking alcohol are at a position comparable to that of tobacco control around 20 years ago, using the same methods as well as sometimes the same personnel. By the same token, organisations - like the hubristic CAMRA, for example - which champion drinkers' rights, may only have a couple of decades to go before they are vilified along the same lines as Forest.

Sadly, it's probably too late for them to do anything about it. Vivienne Nathanson has already let the cat out of the bag by calling for the same 'denormalisation' process for alcohol as was used against tobacco, and don't think they're getting away with it by being moderate drinkers, either. When it is roundly accepted - which it will be - that there is "no safe level for alcohol consumption", it'll be considered just as irresponsible and potentially harmful to others whether drinking just one pint of Old Speckled Hen or three bottles of White Lightning by the neck.

Still, just like smokers of the late 80s and early 90s, drinkers can still cling to the fact that there are just too many of them to take on. And that's never going to change, now is it?

Give it time.

The simple fact is that without the success of tobacco control, the Lords committee distortion of Millian principles quite simply wouldn't have taken place; denormalisation as a valid coercive tool would have been reined in; and more care would be afforded in the UK by politicians to lifestyle liberties and personal responsibility.

The drinks industry and associated organisations had a part to play in that battle ... and blew it. They now have many years to reap the public health blight nurtured by their naïve isolationist arrogance.


Curmudgeon said...

Is some of that increase going to be due to the increased proportion of Muslims in Britain?

Mind you, in my experience more than a few Muslims only claim never to drink.

Anonymous said...

The stuff of civil war ...

Dick Puddlecote said...

Curmudgeon: Possibly, but if so the drinks industry and supporters will have even bigger problems than I've advanced here. :-0

Anonymous said...

Off topic:

Roger Helmer stated that as a non-smoker he would smoke a cigarette in a mass defiance protest if the Stony Stratford ban went through. With so called 'fire safe cigarettes' due to arrive very shortly can people save a proper ready made one for him so he doesn't have to constantly puff to keep it alight? I would but I don't buy ready made ones any more and roll-ups go out easily too.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Anecdotal, on the subject of "people who claim that they never drink".

A lass at work was about to get married and told me that her hubby-to-be never drank. I was horrified, FFS, if you've never seen somebody drunk, you don't know what they're really like.

Oh no, she said, his parents were alcoholics and really bad people when they were drunk, so he's learned the hard way.

It is largely genetic, said I, if booze turned them into monsters, what do you think he'll be like? Don't you want to be warned?

Fast forward to reports of wedding:

The groom got totally pissed, started a fight, insulted his new wife in his speech, it ended up with the fire brigade being called (that may have been unrelated to him being drunk).

They got divorced a few years later.

Curmudgeon said...

There was recently some research claiming to show that a lot of people who said they were non-smokers in fact did have the occasional fag. The same must be true of self-reported non-drinkers.

Dick Puddlecote said...

MW: Was his name Henry Sellers? ;)

d'babe said...

I am amazed that it has taken so long... that 3rd parties are being harmed by 'passive drinking' is by far the easier of the three to 'prove', whereas the effects of someone else's smoking can't be seen (and so far as I'm concerned, have still to be proven to exist) the effect of somone elses drinking is there to see in A&E's up and down the land every night of the week.

Anonymous said...

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always said that alcohol would be next on the list after smoking, in preference to obesity (that’ll come later), because it is far, far easier to develop the concept of an “innocent bystander” in the case of alcohol than it is for obesity, by linking alcohol use to crime, car accidents, social disorder, domestic violence, family breakdown etc etc. Just as smoking is now blamed for pretty much all and every physical ailment ever known to man, alcohol will no doubt be linked with all and every social one. And it was, after all, only once they’d hit on this concept of the “innocent bystander” that the anti-smoking movement really took off – a point which I have no doubt they emphasised relentlessly at their recent “tutoring” session with all of the like-minded anti-alcohol lobby groups recently.

If they can coerce sufficiently large numbers of people into giving up the supremely enjoyable habit of smoking - by instilling fear through over-exaggerated stories about the health risks - for smokers to become the minority, and then, once that task is achieved, convince even larger numbers of people that the few remaining smokers are actually doing them harm by even-more exaggerated and sometimes downright made-up stories of the health risks of SHS, then why does anyone in their right mind believe that they can’t do exactly the same with drinking?

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's the over-exaggerated health risks necessarily what makes people to stop smoking (or claim they stopped smoking) (in public that is). A lot of it is when the anti-smoking propaganda all around you becomes so pervasive that it's literally everywhere and one doesn't know how many fake coughs, nasty looks, or as I have seen, outright physical violence and fists raised up against outdoor smokers, that once that climate of fear and hatred exists, then it forces people to not smoke, simply because the social pressure has become that extreme. Maybe you haven't seen physical acts of violence, fists raised in the air, ready to strike out at outdoor smokers yet, but I have - and if that happens often enough with unavoidable propaganda at every turn on every corner, then eventually it forces people to stop or else say they stopped. With alcohol, it would be similar, the social pressure will be built up over time through use of propaganda and numbers claiming to drink will drop in response. Drinkers and eaters, you're not "safe". Pubs and fast-food laughing now or agreeing to comply instead of fighting, you'll end up like tobacco.

Anonymous said...

There is always a generic excuse for the puritans to apply, to anything they decide to target. That excuse is the market. You may be thin, but whenever you buy a bag of chips, you are sustaining the market which ultimately sells chips to the obese.
You may avoid buying veal, but by buying other meats you are sustaining the livestock trade which gives rise to the suffering of veal calves, that other people buy.
Whatever you do, they will find a pretext to censure you. They are religious zealots. For such people, the ends always justify the means.

Soapy said...

Anon 00.00,

Sorry, I didn’t make myself very clear in my previous post. My apologies. The “over-exaggerated” health claims which I referred to were ones made at the very, very start of the anti-smoking campaign (which, sad to say, I am old enough to remember very well!) – the point where they claimed to have proved that “smoking causes lung cancer” and began to issue dire warnings about smoking’s supposed links with heart disease, but hadn’t yet invoked their paydirt “passive smoking” claims. And those original hyped-up claims did indeed scare many people into giving up smoking “voluntarily.”

I see the later, more insidious and sometimes openly threatening, coercion into making people give up as a much later development which largely arose once so many non-smokers had been thoroughly convinced that smokers were killing them as well as themselves. That’s when those of a mind to do so became openly abusive and aggressive towards smokers (which I don’t dispute occurs, as you have yourself experienced, although I personally never have), spurred on by ASH propaganda and with the sanction of the State through its disgracefully one-sided and unfair legislation, and I think that the anti-smoking zealots knew that this would be the case but, quite frankly, didn’t give a damn about it. “Any means justifies the end,” logic, as it were, like all groups possessed of any cult-like zeal.

And I think that exactly the same process, in the same order, will occur with alcohol, too. After all, we're already at stage 1 - not much open hostility by the public being shown towards people who drink at the moment, but the "health risks" (to the drinker only, at the moment) being flagged up by "the authorities" in exactly the same way ...

smokervoter said...

Has someone gone around ripping out the chapter on Prohibition from all the history books?

Budvar said...

The camels nose is well and truly under the tent flap wrt banning alcohol.

On the back of winos getting hammered on white lightning and idiot parents buying cases of beer for their equally idiot 15yo offspring to get hammered on and cause bother. In my local area (Kirklees) it's illegal to drink alcohol in any public place.

So because of the antics of a few fuckwits, I cant have a picnic/bbq and have a glass of wine or can of beer in any local park etc.

It isn't like we don't have D&D laws etc in place to deal with anti-social behavior, No we have in place an outright ban.

Anonymous said...

The fatal flaw in the argument is that "healthy" people consume more health resources than fat people, who consume more than smokers. Every academic study I have found comes to this conclusion: the most recent being a Dutch simulation highlighted in the Daily Mail about three years ago, and easily googled. This is without taking into account tobacco tax or the reduced pension payments to those who die earlier.

Anonymous said...

Passive drinking is fairly easy to push through now it's been officially decided that there is no safe level of alcohol.

Guidelines For Alcohol Consumption Are Inadequate For Cancer Prevention

12 Jul 2011

"The WHO International Agency of Research on Cancer has stated, based on evidence, that alcohol is carcinogenic in both animals and humans. Several evaluations of this agency as well the joint 2007 report of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research warned of the link between alcohol and cancers in the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon-rectum and breast cancers. Based on the evidence, "there is no level of alcohol consumption for which cancer risk is null."
Medical News Today

Apart from the evaporation from your drinks in a confined space, now you just have to breathe.

Think of the bar staff.

Ridiculous? But of course.

I really can't understand how they didn't see that one coming a mile off.