Monday 30 November 2015


The heading above is my stock response whenever anyone asks do I take sugar in my tea. I am however, a self-confessed chocaholic and I prefer proper fizzy drinks – not the anaemic ones that don’t have any sugar in them. And what is more, I don’t think that is any of Sarah Wollaston MP’s damned business. The Commons Health Select Committee that she chairs has just recommended a 10% ‘sugar tax’ on fizzy drinks, along with a number of other recommendations including product reformulation to reduce sugar content the legal mandating of reduced portion sizes is also on the agenda along with more labelling requirements.

On the BBC News site this story was presented under the heading “MPs Back Sugar Tax” – er…well, seven of the committee of nine did so – that’s just one percent of the total number of MPs in the Commons. We can take some comfort from the fact that two of the committee didn’t back this. Conservative MPs’ Andrea Jenkyns and Andrew Percy both dissented, with Jenkyns calling the proposal “patronising nonsense”. “Here, here” say I!

This whole campaign has been led by ‘Action on Sugar’ – a crackpot group of healthist zealots who see sugar as one of the ‘industries of addiction’ that need curtailing by government. In fact these people believe sugar consumption should be reduced by half – which would take us back to the levels of consumption last seen during the Second World War when sugar was rationed. This really shouldn’t surprise us. Whenever ‘safe levels’ of alcohol consumption are discussed anti-alcohol campaigners use 1952 as their starting point to show how much alcohol consumption has risen. This is because in 1952 rationing had just ended and people were pretty skint – so if that’s your comparator the increase in consumption is made to look pretty steep.

We hear a lot about austerity, but taking us back to war-time levels of consumption because it is “good for us” is a bizarre ambition. If we want to tackle obesity why pick on sugar? A gram of sugar contains just four calories; a gram of alcohol seven calories and a gram of fat nine calories. People need to eat less and exercise more – and that is sensible advice, but it should be up to you if you want to take it.

Sugar isn’t just about sweetening things – it gives food texture and acts as a natural preservative. It shouldn’t need pointing out, but it does, that a sugar tax is regressive and will disproportionately affect consumers with low incomes. In any event sin taxes rarely affect consumption by much and reduce obesity not at all. Mexico’s sugar tax reduced consumption by just six per cent and had no discernible impact on obesity. Denmark also embraced the idea of taxing its citizens into anorexia with a fat tax and a tax on soft drinks. It abandoned both.

So, with all this evidence why does Sarah Wollaston and her ever-so-cute poster boy Jamie Oliver still champion this idea? For Oliver this is just another way of raising his profile although he’s empty-headed enough to believe it will work; for Wollaston I suspect this measure is at least as important symbolically as it is instrumentally. She is desperate for a victory over Big Soda now that the virtual demise of minimum unit pricing makes a victory over Big Alcohol increasingly unlikely.

I really don’t understand what Wollaston is doing in the Conservative Party. Her ideology is state control of large swathes of industry so that ‘public health’ campaigners become the arbiters of the consumption patterns of the nation. What about free markets and choice Sarah? No doubt Big Business will be blamed if the government sticks to its policy of not introducing a sugar tax. After all, that’s what socialists do. I think you should cross the floor and join Jeremy’s party Sarah – I believe he has a nice allotment and bakes his own scones. I don’t know if he puts jam on them though!

Paul Chase

Tuesday 24 November 2015


The Licensing Act 2003 went ‘live’ at midnight on the 24th November 2005. Initially it enjoyed cross-party support and even qualified support from ACPO. The only stumbling block to its progress through Parliament was an amendment in the Lords which came to be known as the ‘Morris Dancing exemption’ – their lordships were concerned that traditional English folk dancing might be caught by the new definition of regulated entertainment – and thus Morris Dancing and the like was solemnly exempted from the regulations; everyone kept a straight face. It was in the time-lapse between the Bill passing into law and it coming into effect that we saw the development of what was arguably the most extraordinary moral panic of modern times.

The labelling of the new licensing regime by the Daily Mail as the “twenty-four hour drinking Act” was instrumental in persuading politicians, bishops, police chiefs, newspaper editors, a variety of self-appointed, socially-accredited experts and other assorted ‘right-thinking people’ that this would lead to a binge-drinking epidemic, a crime wave, and in particular an increase in rape and other assaults. And that our hospitals would be flooded with so many casualties that the new Act would “bankrupt the NHS”. Ever since this claim, a crisis isn’t a proper crisis unless it threatens to do that.

In reality we have seen crime and disorder fall, and as a sub-set of that we have seen alcohol-related crime and disorder fall. The other falls – in the overall level of drinking and in problem drinking and teeny drinking have been well documented. I don’t suggest that these improvements have happened because of the new licensing regime, but certainly they don’t support the proposition that the sky would fall in and society as we know it would crumble as a result of licensing reform. Some would argue that we haven’t seen the creation of a continental cafĂ©-bar culture either – but this was never more than a piece of New Labour spin.

In fact neither the worst fears nor the best hopes attached to this reform were realised. The lesson for politicians is that the expectation that a reform to the way in which we regulate how the retail distribution system handles a product would automatically read-across to a cultural change in terms of how consumers would use that product, was unrealistic. Regulation is only a part of the mix; drinking cultures are much more complex than was supposed.

All of that having been said, I do think that the Licensing Act 2003 has been a qualified success, despite the legislative repentance that followed as a result of the initial moral panic. It was sensible to separate the licensing of persons from the licensing of premises. It was right to enable licensing hours to be responsive to local needs and consumer demand. Getting rid of nationally prescribed ‘permitted hours’ was a welcome departure from the paternalism of the past. Although the trade was initially suspicious of moving licensing from courts to councils – and in the process discovering that they loved magistrates after all – it was broadly a positive move. If there is to be a further reform of the licensing system I would like to see licensing continue to be administered by council licensing authorities, but for contested applications to be heard in the courts with a proper judicial procedure, in the event that objections cannot be mediated away.

The Licensing Act 2003 did enable some welcome changes to the drinking culture, particularly in city centres. Under the Licensing Act 1964 the city centre night-time-economy had become a youth leisure ghetto. If you could only sell alcohol after 11 p.m. if it was ancillary to the combination of music, dancing and the availability of food, in practice this meant nightclubs and late-night bars with a loud disco. The demographic this appealed to was obvious. What is equally obvious is that we all behave better when we are in the company of people older or younger than ourselves. When the new licensing regime swept away these outdated restrictions it enabled the creation of a much more diverse night-time-economy that attracted a much wider demographic. The political and media perception of the city-centre drinking culture is still rooted in mass volume, vertical drinking establishments, but this is not the way the late-night drinking culture has evolved.

The Licensing Act 2003 did ignite a debate about alcohol and society. The nexus of that debate has now moved beyond crime and disorder and into the realm of health impacts. What is lacking in this whole debate is honest statistics. We don’t even have a nationally agreed definition of alcohol-related crime; the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions and the impact of alcohol on A&E departments have been grotesquely exaggerated by a new public health movement that sees alcohol as an “industry of addiction”. The debate about alcohol and society is more polarised than ever before. That is perhaps the worst unintended consequence of the Licensing Act 2003.

Paul Chase

Thursday 12 November 2015


Barely a day goes by without some new ‘threat’ to our health being announced by epidemiologists or others health campaigners. For these people – I call them ‘healthists’ - the meaning of life appears to be the elimination of anything enjoyable in order to achieve maximum longevity. Key to this is the elimination of ‘risk-factors’ from our diet and our lifestyles. The key technique used to frighten us all into abstinence is to concentrate on cancer risks. Here an old trick is used: take a very small baseline risk and then measure the increase to that risk that arises if you engage in ‘unhealthy’ eating or drinking. The effect of this is to give prominence and publicity to very large percentage increases in very small baseline risks.

Here are some examples of this crack-pottery that have come to light in the past two weeks:

Firstly, inevitably, alcohol. The ‘lower risk’ drinking guidelines are now being examined by the Department of Health with a view to reducing them. The reason given by the DoH is that there is “no safe level of consumption in respect of the epidemiological risk of developing cancers”, and “the cancer risks of drinking is a game-changer.” It is of course accepted that excessive consumption of alcohol is causally related to a number of cancers, but the risk is dose-related.

So, taking oral cancers as an example, what is the overall risk caused by drinking alcohol? According to Cancer Research UK there were some 7,300 oral cancers diagnosed in the UK in 2012. Of these tobacco smoking was identified as the cause in 65% of cases. Alcohol consumption accounted for 30% of these – some 2,190 cases. 30 million adults in the UK drink at least once a week. Of those 30 million, 2,190 of them develop an alcohol-related oral cancer; that’s 0.007% of regular drinkers! And remember, these figures include very heavy drinkers as well as moderate and light drinkers – so should we panic and abstain? Well, about 30% of alcohol-related oral cancer sufferers do die from this condition. So, around 657 deaths out of 30 million drinkers – 0.021%.

Every such death is a tragedy, but the actuarial risk is minute. The proposition that anything that raises the epidemiological risk of a cancer ‘isn’t safe’ is therefore somewhat problematic. In everyday life people make trade-offs. They don’t ask “is this product or behaviour safe?” they ask “is it safe enough?” We do this all the time and not just in relation to food and drink. We don’t ask is driving a motor vehicle safe; we ask is it safe enough. In other words, do the benefits of driving justify me in taking the risks? When we are told that tobacco smoking results in the premature death of half of all smokers that may well deter people from starting, or persuade existing smokers to quit. But if you were told that 0.021% of regular drinkers die from an oral cancer, would that put you off? It is this kind of epidemiological paranoia that leads healthists to call for abstinence and any lowering of the lower risk drinking guidelines is but a staging post on that journey.

In addition to the cancer risks of alcohol we’re had some real healthist gems in the past fortnight:

·         The official advice of the European Food Safety Authority is as follows: when you make a piece of toast only toast it golden brown, don’t burn it or you will ingest acrylamides which are carcinogenic. Acrylamides are contained in crisps, savoury snacks, soft and crispy breads, biscuits, cakes, crackers, cereals and coffee. Or anything nice.
·         Fry your foods in butter or lard because frying them in vegetable oil raises your risk of cancer.
·         Less than one sausage a day increases your cancer risk. And be sure not to cook your Sunday roasties too dark and crispy because they contain acrylamides too!
·         Eating a steak once a week rectal cancers by more than two fifths.
·         Less than one sausage a day raises your risk factor for cancer.

But my favourite was cheese addiction. Cheese contains casein – a protein which becomes super concentrated in the cheese making process and forms morphine-like compounds. These then bind with the opioid receptors in your brain making cheese as addictive as morphine. Pizza restaurant chains are nothing more than drug dealers who rely on addiction for repeat business! Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine, describes cheese as “dairy crack”.

And then we come to energy drinks.  Doctors warn that just one energy drink a day raises the risk for heart disease even amongst young healthy adults. This is a veiled attack on caffeine, which is of course contained in coffee. I was wondering when coffee drinking was going to be attacked by healthists. Anything that is successful raises their ire. My tip is that the epidemiological risks of caffeine consumption will be the next ‘big thing’ to occupy their small minds.

Paul Chase

Friday 30 October 2015

The Age of Unreason

“Government Must Act Now to Save Our Children” read a recent headline in the Times. The reference was, of course, to the demand that government introduce a sugar tax of between 10 and 20 per cent on fizzy drinks. I’ve written about this issue before, but it does seem to me that it now has all the hallmarks of a classic moral panic. It’s almost as if health campaigners have given up on minimum pricing for alcohol, and this is the next ‘big thing’ for them to obsess over. But actually it’s just top of a very long list of things that they think need taxing or banning – and the list gets longer and more absurd by the day.

It’s not that taxing sugary drinks wouldn’t reduce consumption, it would. Use taxation to raise the price of anything and consumption of it will fall, more or less, depending on the price-elasticity-of demand for the product concerned. The point is that the effect will be utterly trivial in terms of its impact on obesity. There are many, many products that contain added sugar, and a recent article in the Sunday Telegraph looks at how many ready meals sold in our major supermarkets contain much more added sugar than fizzy drinks. Should we tax or regulate to reduce sugar in them all? Health campaigners would say yes – the taxation and mass reformulation of products is exactly what they support; it’s all part of their mad plan for world domination – otherwise known as regulating capitalism out of existence!

The impression given by health activists, and much of the media, that sugar consumption is out of control is simply wrong. Reports from DEFRA and from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey show that sugar consumption is lower than it was 40 years ago; but when a moral panic sets in it’s a case of “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”.

Before we ask government to intervene in free markets we should first of all establish whether there has been a market failure that justifies such intervention. One of the most intriguing statistics I’ve read on the subject of sugar and non-alcoholic drinks came from JD Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin. Writing in Propel he disclosed that in the previous week ‘Spoons had sold 580,000 Pepsi products on draught and that 197,000 of them were Diet Pepsi and therefore sugar-free. That’s just over a third. In addition, Martin wrote, ‘Spoons sold a million cups of tea and coffee that were served without sugar. So when we talk about all non-alcoholic drinks and not just fizzy drinks, it is clear that customers were already, overwhelmingly, choosing the sugar-free options. This may not be a scientific survey, but it’s a highly indicative snapshot of the choices people are now making, so where’s the evidence of market failure? And what a brilliant baseline of free choice on which a successful public education campaign could build.

But back to alcohol. According to the press, Public Health England has said there is no safe level of alcohol consumption in terms of the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Now, whilst there is a specific form of dementia called Wernicke-Korsakov syndrome that arises when you pickle your brain in copious quantities of alcohol over a prolonged period of time, the evidence for a causal link between low and moderate alcohol consumption and Alzheimer’s is very weak indeed. But Public Health England say just because there is no evidence that alcohol is implicated doesn’t mean it isn’t; so, apply the precautionary principle and say until there is evidence that it is safe let’s assume it is unsafe and advise abstinence.  What reason! What impeccable logic!
All of these public health campaigns are really predicated on a fear of death. But according to Professor Westendorp – a leading expert in human ageing and longevity – life expectancy is going up in the West faster than we can adjust to it. Every week we get an extra weekend of life-expectancy; every day we gain six hours: “The first person to live to 135 has already been born” he states (The Times, October 22nd 2015). Dementia, the bogeyman of the present, is also in significant decline according to Professor Westendorp. A large-scale population study in the UK reported a 30 per cent drop in the risk of getting dementia over the past 20 years. And heart disease and strokes are also on the decline. In the first half of the 20th century, half of the population died of cardiovascular disease; that has now dropped to a third and heart disease continues to fall.

The doom-mongers of the public health racket never give up though. As reported by Chris Snowdon on his blog site Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, a recent report by Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is concerned about the health aspects of cheese. There is a reason why pizza is such a successful food product. It contains an addictive substance.  Dr. Barnard believes cheese to be as addictive as morphine because it contains “casein-derived, morphine-like compounds” which become super-concentrated during the cheese-making process.  And so cheese might as well be called “dairy crack” he declares.

And, hot off the press, a World Health Organisation report has just been published that classifies processed meat as carcinogenic – alongside arsenic and asbestos. Less than one sausage a day increases your risk of developing cancer by almost a fifth.

I am utterly speechless!

Paul Chase

Monday 19 October 2015


It has been reported in the press recently that the Department of Health is considering revising down the ‘lower-risk’ or ‘sensible drinking’ guidelines, on the basis of new evidence linking even very low levels of alcohol consumption to an increase in the risk of developing cancers – particularly breast cancer. The logic of the healthist argument is that there is no level of regular alcohol consumption, no matter how low, that doesn’t raise the epidemiological risk factor for a variety of cancers, and therefore there is no ‘safe level’ of alcohol consumption. It follows from this that the ‘lower-risk’ drinking guidelines should be reduced, as they have been recently in Canada and Australia. I believe that there is actually good evidence, from a health point of view, that we could safely raise the lower-risk guidelines. That’s right – raise them!

Let’s take a step back: firstly, if the overarching purpose of lower-risk drinking guidelines is to reduce levels of drinking and thereby levels of premature death by reducing the risks of developing fatal diseases, then surely what we should look at is the relationship between various levels of alcohol consumption and the risk of premature death from all causes, not just premature death from one cause – cancers. Here’s where we uncover some inconvenient truths for the health lobby. Research has established that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis are less likely to die prematurely than people who never drink. And to be more specific, they are less likely to die prematurely from cancers or heart disease.

In the graph below we see the risk of all-cause mortality for ‘never drinkers’ represented by the horizontal straight line. If we look at the J-curves for men and women, represented by the solid black line and dotted black line respectively, we can see that risk of premature death from all causes declines at very low levels of consumption (less than one standard drink a day) and then starts to rise. But it only exceeds the risk for people who never drink when it exceeds four standard drinks a day for men and approximately 3 standard drinks a day for women. An American ‘standard drink’ equates to 1.7 units of alcohol.

The current UK lower-risk guidelines were plucked out of the air; they are not based on science. But we can now define a rational basis upon which to calculate such guidelines. It’s about relative risk: if people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol regularly have a lower level of all-cause mortality as compared with those who never drink, then the question we need to ask, when framing the lower-risk drinking guidelines, is: how many units of alcohol consumed per day would raise the risk of premature death from all causes above the risk level of those who never drink?

We do have an answer to this – represented in the J-curve graph. Research in the United States has shown that for men, two to four ‘standard drinks’ per day, and for women, one to three standard drinks per day, keeps the risk factor of premature death from all causes below that of ‘never drinkers’. In the United States a ‘standard drink’ is the equivalent of 12 fluid ounces of beer with an ABV of 5%. This translates into 1.7 British units of alcohol. So, two to four standard drinks a day represents between 3.4 and 6.8 units of alcohol consumption for men, and one to three standard drinks gives us a range of 1.7 to 5.1 units a day of alcohol consumption for women. The current UK guidelines are 3 to 4 units a day for men, and 2 to 3 units a day for women – hence my suggestion that the current guidelines err on the side of caution and could safely be raised.

But there is another question we need to ask about what the healthists have to say concerning safe levels and risk factors. If we are going to define alcohol as ‘unsafe’ because at any level of consumption it raises the risk of developing cancers, then what happens if we apply that principle to other drink and food products?

Let’s take tap water as an example. In the UK we put chlorine in our public water supply. Chlorine is a disinfectant that kills micro-organisms and thereby renders water safe to drink. The chlorination of public water supplies represented a massive step forward in public health and virtually eliminated cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases in advanced countries. But we know from research done in the 1970s and the 1990s that chlorine, when added to water, forms Trihalomethanes (THMs), one of which is chloroform. THMs increase the production of free radicals in the body and are highly carcinogenic (cancer causing). Specifically, they raise the risk factor for bladder, colon and breast cancers. THMs may also have an effect on pregnancy and the level of miscarriages and on the development of allergic reactions to certain foods.

There are numerous studies that establish this link between chlorinated water consumption and cancer. Here is just one example: a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in the United States found that “long term drinking of chlorinated water appears to increase a person’s risk of developing bladder cancer by as much as 80 percent.” I’m not trying to start a health scare here folks, because the absolute risk of developing bladder cancer is very low, so an 80 percent increase in a very low risk is still a very low risk. I’m merely pointing out that basing public health policy on epidemiological risk factors alone, does not provide the basis for evidence-based policy-making. Used selectively, as in the example of alcohol consumption and cancer risk factors, it is merely scaremongering and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Department of Health, please take note.

But if we apply the principle that any elevation of cancer or other health risk factors renders food (as opposed to alcoholic drinks) unsafe, then we get to an even more untenable position. Consumption of red meat; of meat products such as bacon, sausages and burgers; consumption of convenience foods for microwave cooking, such as spag bol, because they contain added sugar and salt, and for the same reason consumption of fizzy drinks – all these foods raise disease risk factors. So what we are left with is fruit and veg – and nothing to drink! The healthist utopia is the creation of a teetotal, vegetarian society. And this is where you can begin to see that ‘public health’ as a movement is not about public health, but about state regulation of lifestyle. It is an ideology that seeks to use epidemiological research to pressure government to regulate the food and drinks’ industries in order to enforce mass product reformulation.

There are of course genuine concerns about the health effects of heavy alcohol consumption and about excessive consumption of foods rich in sugar, salt and saturated fats. But as long as we have free information and there is no market failure in terms of the provision of affordable healthy alternatives, there is no justification for government stepping in with large-scale regulation.

Paul Chase

Tuesday 22 September 2015


Musician Frank Zappa once said: “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.” Which neatly brings me to Jamie Oliver. 

Oliver has decided to become an anti-sugar evangelist, and in his recent Channel 4 programme ‘Sugar Rush’ he described sugar as “evil”. His response is to put a 10p ‘sugar tax’ on fizzy drinks sold in his restaurants which will go to his campaigning fighting-fund. And there are reports that Leon and Abokado are about to follow his lead. Social psychologists refer to this kind of behaviour as “virtue signalling” which is a gratuitous example of just such stupidity.

And then there are the double standards involved. Oliver tells us that we shouldn’t consume more than seven teaspoons-full of sugar a day. So, how does he justify the nine and a half teaspoons of it in his Eton Mess; or the seven teaspoons of it in his baked cranberry cheesecake; or the four teaspoons of it in his chocolate ice cream; or the two table spoons full of it in his bread? I could go on, but what is apparent is that saying “my added sugar is OK, but I’m not sure about yours” is just stupid. Sugar is simply a basic ingredient added to many foods to give taste and texture, and if we are to characterise that as evil then Fanny Craddock and Mrs Beeton will be turning in their graves!

The truth is that the campaigns against sugar, fat and alcohol all stem from the same ideology: ‘healthism’. Health campaigners believe that capitalism is wicked; that that the next big step forward in public health is to get the government to prescribe a national diet, and to nudge people into making the ‘right choices’ with sin taxes, bans and the mass reformulation of products. But the facts are not on their side. 

According to the British Heart Foundation (2012: 107): “Overall intake of calories, fat and saturated fat has decreased since the 1970s. This trend is accompanied by a decrease in sugar and salt intake, and an increase in fibre and fruit and vegetable intake.”

Surveys carried out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) since 1974 have also validated the fact that calorie consumption, fats, and carbohydrates, including sugars, have all declined since 1974. And that includes consumption in the home and out of home consumption too (The Big Fat Lie, IEA publication by Chris Snowdon). This research also indicates that per capita consumption of sugar, salt, fat, and calories has been falling in Britain for decades. Per capita sugar consumption has fallen by 16% since 1992 and calorie consumption by 21% since 1974. At the same time the average body weight of English adults has increased by two kilograms. This apparent paradox can only be explained by reference to the decline in physical exercise – at home, in schools and in the workplace.

But these inconvenient facts don’t suit health campaigners. They know there’s not much you can do about long-term changes to the nature of work or the decline in school sport, so they need to construct a narrative whereby Big Food seeks to addict us all to sugar and salt in order to flog their stuff. This is similar to the narrative about the addictive nature of alcohol and the slippery slope. This notion, that the docile masses need protection for the machinations of food and drink producers, who are depicted as little better than drug dealers, is what underpins the assertions of swivel-eyed fanatics like Graham MacGregor, chair of Action on Sugar; Mike Raynor, a member of it, and Tam Fry head of the National Obesity Forum – all of whom appeared in Oliver’s programme Sugar Rush.

So, how dangerous are sugary drinks and sugar in any event? According to the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) there is an association, based on “moderate evidence” between excessive consumption of sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes, but no evidence between sugar as such and type 2 diabetes; no association between sugar and blood insulin; and no association between sugary drinks and childhood obesity. The demand of anti-sugar campaigners to reduce sugar consumption from 10% of our dietary energy to 5% represents a reduction in calorie intake of just 100 calories a day. That’s going to cure the ‘obesity epidemic’? Really?   
Jamie Oliver chooses to ignore the mainstream science and instead to give the oxygen of publicity to fanatical anti-sugar campaigners to whom he is just a useful idiot.

In the upcoming final series of Downton Abbey there’s a scene where the Dowager Countess, played by the wonderful Maggie Smith, asks her moral-crusading friend Mrs Hughes the following question: “Tell me, doesn’t it ever get cold on the moral high ground?” For Jamie Oliver the moral high ground is shifting beneath his feet because he’s just not bright enough to do some basic research. It should send a shiver down his spine.


Like an interminable series of the X Factor the issue of minimum unit pricing (MUP) has dragged on and on. And I’m getting bored now!

Yesterday saw the publication of the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the legality of MUP under EU law. This was billed as a definitive opinion on whether MUP could lawfully proceed or not. And it didn’t quite live up to the pre-publication hype. It was a wordy, 41 page judgment written in deep legal-speak and it took me quite some time to understand whether it was saying “yes MUP is legal” or “oh no, it’s not!” 

On reflection I think it is pretty clear that the Advocate General was not a fan of Nicola Sturgeon’s pet project and that his opinion struck a potentially fatal blow to the whole ill-conceived measure. Amongst other things he found that fixing a minimum price for a unit of alcohol could only be justified if the Scottish Government could prove that alternative means of curbing excessive consumption, such as increasing taxation, would not deliver the same, or substantially the same benefits – but without restricting trade and the free movement of goods. He concluded it was “difficult to justify” minimum pricing as it appeared “less consistent and effective” than increasing taxes and “may even be perceived as being discriminatory.” Ouch! Take that! 

But let’s take a step back and consider the legal issues: one of the fundamental principles of the EU is free movement of goods. Anything that impedes that is likely to be ruled unlawful. So, put yourself in the position of a Spanish wine maker. Your operation is efficient and your costs are low. You pass this onto the consumer and your wine is inexpensive to buy so you can sell lots of it. Up pops the Scottish Government and imposes a minimum unit price that makes your wine more expensive. The outcome is that you can no longer reap the competitive advantage that arises out of your efficiency, so your volumes will fall. Both sides in this case agreed that this amounted to a “quantitative restriction” – an impediment to free movement of goods – and therefore, on the face of it, illegal.

Ah, but there’s a get-out clause that says such restrictions may be lawful if they are necessary to protect public health. However, any such measure would have to pass the “proportionality test”. This means that the measure (MUP) must not be disproportionate to the desired goal (improving public health), and if there is an alternative measure that would protect public health and not impede or restrict the free movement of goods then you must choose that instead. And it was this point that greatly exercised the Advocate General when he pointed out that the Scottish Government had provided no evidence to show that taxation wasn’t at least as effective, if not more so, as a means of reducing excessive alcohol consumption.

Now the issue of “proportionality” did not fall from the sky; the Scottish Government wasn’t ambushed by this proposition. Both sides knew this would be the crux of the matter. So when Nicola Sturgeon commented yesterday that “the policy (MUP) can be implemented if it is shown to be the most effective public health measure available”; and that “it will be for the domestic courts to take the final decision” she sounds like a drowning person clinging to a life ring with a puncture in it, who nevertheless maintains “I’m still optimistic!” 

Firstly, it was always going to be up to the domestic court and its judges to decide – but with the ruling of the ECJ ringing in their ears. Secondly, it’s not just about establishing that MUP is the most effective measure, it’s about explaining to the court’s satisfaction why you didn’t choose a measure that could achieve substantially the same objective, but without discriminating against efficient producers with low costs and low prices. The Scottish Government had ample notice that this would be the crucial test, but failed to provide any evidence with regard to why they were insisting that only MUP could achieve their objectives.

I think that one of the things the Advocate General picked up on is that the Scottish Government was confused about what the objectives of MUP actually are. Is it intended to deter heavy drinkers and reduce their consumption? Well, many heavy drinkers are quire well-heeled so it is unlikely that you could successfully argue that price rises would deter them. Was it to reduce alcohol consumption across the whole population? Well, clearly alcohol duty is a much better mechanism for doing that, and in any event why should ordinary, moderate drinkers be penalised in this way? Or could it just be that they want to reduce the alcohol consumption of poor people with a regressive sin tax?

I think the Advocate General’s opinion blows MUP out of the water. Get over it Nicola, and move on.


I’ve generally tried to stay out of the tobacco debate, largely because I’m not a smoker and don’t feel strongly about smoking as such. But the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces has already impacted on pubs and has been one of the factors that have contributed to pubs closing. The smoking ban has now been extended from enclosed public spaces to banning smoking in enclosed private spaces – cars, when children are present. My belief is that the longer-term goal of ‘public health’ is to ban smoking in the home when children are present, stopping-off along the way to test the water and condition public opinion to extending smoking bans more widely.

It seems another stopping-off point is smoking bans in open public spaces – and this is already proposed for beaches in Brighton and for city squares in Bristol. This is the kind of petty-Gauleiter activity you get when ‘public health’ is given to rinky-dink local government to play with. The latest public health sock puppet to jump on this particular bandwagon is the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). They are calling for the smoking ban to be extended to beer gardens, al fresco eating areas of restaurants, parks and outside school gates. RSPH go on to say smoking should be seen as “abnormal” and people needing a “fix of nicotine” should use e-cigarettes. 

According to the BBC, Shirley Cramer, RSPH’s chief executive, said: “Children are hugely receptive to the behaviour of the adults around them. The sight therefore of individuals smoking at prominent locations risks teaching them that smoking is a normal and safe habit.

“We believe that banning smoking in these locations via an exclusion zone could further de-normalise smoking, ensuring that it is seen as an abnormal activity and potentially, prevent children and young people from beginning in the future.”

The end-game here is to ban smoking at home – what could be a more prominent place in which to influence children than the home? But with 22% of men and 19% of women smoking regularly it is not for government to decide what is or is not “normal”, and then to threaten people with fines or imprisonment if they depart from the norm by breaking a legally enforceable ban – particularly one introduced at the insistence of a bunch of obsessive cranks who seek to write moral prescriptions for everyone else. There is no longer any pretence that such banning measures are there to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke - that was always just an excuse. The goal is “de-normalisation” as a kind of cultural form of prohibition.

Now where have I heard all this before? Well, think of the health lobby’s proposals on banning alcohol advertising. This is part of their strategy for de-normalising the drinking of beverage alcohol. Where smoking policy goes, alcohol policy is sure to follow. Smokers have been driven outside the pub, now they are being told that if they need a “nicotine fix” it must be from an e-cigarette. I’m beginning to think of smokers as a persecuted minority! But this measure can only discourage smokers from going to pubs.


One of the techniques that healthists use to de-normalise alcohol is to take the drinking of it completely out of its social and cultural context and say it is “just another drug”. In the United States we have seen the development of a powdered form of alcohol – a product called “Palcohol”. The US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau have approved this product, which, when mixed with 6 fluid ounces of water produces the same alcohol content as a standard mixed drink. The powders come in various flavours – vodka, rum and powderita – a margarita version. 

I cannot imagine a worse development for our sector, or one that is more calculated to facilitate the portrayal of alcohol as just another drug. If you thought that healthists had a field day with “alcopops” wait until powdered alcohol hits the shops. Once we separate ethyl alcohol from beverage alcohol – from the tradition of craft and flavour, and the use of natural ingredients – then those of us who defend the drinking of beverage alcohol as a lawful and socially acceptable activity are placed in an untenable position. 

Actually, when I said I can’t imagine a worse development for our sector than powdered alcohol - I take that back! We have also seen the development of alcohol vaping – inhale it as a vapour and it goes straight from the lungs to the brain and people get very drunk, very quickly. Currently the Home Office is consulting on whether powdered alcohol at least should be brought under the licensing regime. This type of product is already available online. I find myself in the slightly uncomfortable position of favouring a ban. Oh dear!


What divides ‘public health’ from those of us who would rather like to make our own lifestyle choices is essentially the question of what it is we want to maximise. Do we want to maximise ‘longevity’ or ‘utility’? It seems to be the unquestioned assumption of ‘healthists’ (those for whom the ‘health of the nation’ has become an ideological obsession) that longevity – length of life – is the main thing we have to consider; that all our lifestyle choices should be based on maximising the length of time we spend knocking about the planet. This explains why we have an endless stream of research papers that seek to uncover our epidemiological risk factor of premature mortality from a variety of illnesses linked to lifestyle. 

A visit to the GP involves feeding all your numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol ratio, height, weight and even your postcode into a computerised, mathematical model that calculates what is termed your ‘QRisk Factor’ – your risk of heart attack or stroke in the next 20 years. You can Google a QRisk factor calculator and play around with this model if you know your ‘numbers’. I did so and discovered that my risk of heart attack or stroke was only marginally reduced even if I significantly reduced my blood pressure or my ‘bad cholesterol’. But when I altered my age from 66 years to 35, but made no other alteration to my numbers, then my risk of getting a heart attack or stroke in the next 20 years reduced dramatically – from 19.4% to 1%. In a man of my age managing epidemiological risk factors seems like an exercise in trying to hold back the tide. And we all know what happened to King Canute!

Of course, if you combine a reduction in both blood pressure and bad cholesterol then that does deliver a significant reduction in your risk of premature mortality, which is why the mission of many GPs is to get anyone over 40 medicated with drugs that reduce both these measures. And they’d also like you to stop drinking and smoking and to eat a nationally approved diet. But there is no obvious reason why longevity should be the ultimate goal of public health. What most people seek to do is maximise utility. This means they seek to live their lives in a way that maximises enjoyment, pleasure and sensory experience so as to enhance sociability and enable them to, er… enjoy life!

Longevity and utility are not mutually exclusive alternatives; this is not a zero-sum game in which you have to choose. This is about balance. Drinking yourself to death is not my idea of maximising utility, nor is chain smoking. But to live a life of abstemious self-denial elevates longevity to the status of a life principle that trumps everything else – and probably ensures that when you die, it will be of boredom. I think it is up to each individual to decide where to establish this balance, but epidemiology has been elevated almost to the status of a new religion; it is puritanism dressed in a white coat.

We are bombarded with healthist scare stories that capitalise on our fear of death, and which seek to persuade us to surrender our freedom and our right to make our own moral choices to a new priesthood: the ayatollahs of public health.

But every so often something happens that warms the cockles of my libertarian heart. One of the unintended and positive consequences of the squeeze on public spending is that cash-strapped local councils can’t waste money funding sock-puppet fake charities that peddle the healthist ideological agenda. And so it is that DrinkWise Northwest has had its state funding withdrawn. Most of their money came from local authorities, not public donations, and they used this money to campaign and lobby for changes to government policy on alcohol. This was a classic case of using public funds to campaign against public policy. Their website was full of imprecations to ‘join the movement’, ‘act now’ or ‘write to your MP’. They campaigned, anonymously at first, via an arms-length website, for alcohol advertising bans and minimum unit pricing. In relation to minimum pricing they made the ludicrous claim that it would reduce the price of some drinks. 

Their campaigning falls foul of a Department for Communities and Local Government ‘anti-sock puppet clause’ that reads as follows:

“The following costs are not eligible expenditure: payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action.” 

DrinkWise North West has a counterpart called Balance North East and I can only hope they will suffer a similar fate along with Alcohol Concern, which is another fake charity which, when it isn’t pickpocketing the taxpayer, gets money from the pharmaceutical industry for endorsing products used to treat ‘mild alcoholism’.

The nanny state never sleeps, but we may be able to starve it to death.


There’s no limit to the opportunism of politicians, and the extent to which George Osborne stole Labour’s clothes with the announcement of a new National Living Wage (NLW) is a case in point. To understand what is going on here we need to separate the economic arguments for government wage-fixing and tax credits for those in work, from the social justice arguments. In a free market economy the interplay between demand and supply should determine the price of all ‘factors of production’, including wages for labour. Government should only intervene to correct a ‘market failure’. The two most obvious forms of market failure arise from monopoly and monopsony power.

A ‘monopsony’ arises when employers dominate the labour market, sort of an employer equivalent of a monopoly. The economic argument is that a ‘monopsonist’ is able to hold wages below the market equilibrium, just like a monopolist would force prices above the market equilibrium.  Thus labour is being exploited by the market power of an employer, or small group of employers. This ‘market failure’ justifies government intervention that puts a floor under wages. 

But the idea that the UK’s national minimum wage (NMW) was introduced to combat employer buying power that was artificially holding down the level of wages for unskilled labour is ridiculous. The NMW was introduced in April 1999 and it raised the wages of workers who were largely unskilled or semi-skilled across a whole range of occupations, but it covered only 3% of the workforce. The justification for it was never an economic one, but a moral, social justice one. Put simply, the Labour Government believed it was just wrong for people to be paid below a given, hourly rate. So the NMW was introduced in the name of social justice, not to correct a market failure of the type defined above.
So, when in addition to the NMW Gordon Brown introduced Working Tax Credits in April 2003, he didn’t do so to subsidise ‘low-pay employers’ who otherwise would suffer a labour shortage, but to subsidise low-pay employees in order to correct a failure of government policy, namely, the way in which the benefits system was distorting the labour market and creating a ‘why work’ culture. If the gap between receiving benefits for doing nothing, and what a worker on minimum wage would receive net of tax was too small, then workers in this position realised they were really working for the difference and it wasn’t worth it to them. Working tax credits were introduced to widen that gap – solve a government policy failure, not a market failure.

So, now the newly elected Tory Chancellor comes along and says that he too wants to make work pay, and that a new, compulsory national living wage is the way forward. Again, there is no economic justification for this; it is a social policy/social justice objective. That’s fine, but it isn’t immediately apparent to me why the burden for realising that social policy objective should fall disproportionately on employers - who aren’t paying below the market equilibrium for labour and don’t operate as a monopsony. 

And it’s not just where these policies start that’s important, but where they end up. I support the general thrust of policy towards reducing dependence on benefits, reducing the cost of them and thereby enabling tax cuts that benefit workers on low pay, but when the NLW is fully implemented in 2020 at approximately £9.35 an hour, then 20% of all employees in the UK will have their wages determined by a government quango, the Low Pay Commission. So, a social policy that aimed to protect a small group of low paid workers, just 3% of the workforce will, just over two decades later, have morphed into a policy that fixes the wages of 20% of the workforce. This same mission creep can be seen in the rising cost of working tax allowances: a cost of £1.1 billion in 2003; rising to £30 billion by 2014 precisely because working tax credits were linked to the minimum wage which over its lifetime has exceeded both price and wage inflation. The consequence has been to create a ratchet-effect that has seen the cost of tax credits sky-rocket.

Currently the hospitality sector accounts for 26% of all minimum wage jobs, so the effect of creating a much higher rate of pay for those over 25 who will be subject to the new, compulsory living wage, is going to have a big impact on the sector, particularly on rented pubs where the net margins are small. 
Personally, I would have preferred deeper spending cuts to fund bigger reductions in taxes. And a more radical reform of the tax system to harmonise income tax and national insurance. Also, raising the level at which employees start to pay NI towards the level of the income tax personal allowance would do more to help those on low pay than a compulsory NLW that will throw between 60,000 and 120,000 people out of work. We should bear in mind that an increase from £6.50 per hour to £9.35 per hour is a 43.8% rise over four years at a time when retail price inflation is virtually non-existent. This is preposterous. Budgets are high political drama, but they also have a habit of unravelling. If this particular measure doesn’t unravel then our sector will pay a very high price for the Chancellor’s political cross-dressing moment.


Dear Alastair

I’m writing this letter after watching your appearance on the Andrew Marr Show, and having read your thought-provoking piece in the Sunday Times Review on the sad death of Charles Kennedy. There is much in your article that I agree with – particularly your insight that what is central to understanding alcoholism is an understanding of the relationship that the alcoholic has with drink, rather than seeing alcohol as a substance which in itself causes a chemical enslavement that the drinker is powerless to resist. And I found your account of Charles Kennedy’s loneliness stuck in a flat in Westminster many miles from home, with all the pressures of leadership and the remorseless spotlight of the media on him, to be authentic and moving.

But what frustrates me, both about your article and your comments on the Andrew Marr Show, is that your conclusions just don’t seem to match your analysis. Alcoholism is “an evil disease”, you declare. And there are numerous other references to alcoholism as a disease in your article. Given all the insights you expressed about Charles Kennedy’s problems, and indeed your own struggle with alcoholism, you then make the classic mistake of confusing symptoms with causes. Did Charles Kennedy simply need to find the resolve to embrace lifelong abstention, or might his relationship with alcohol have changed for the better if he addressed the problems that caused that relationship to become disordered in the first place?

If alcoholism is a disease, no one actually knows how it is caused and no one has found a cure. I want to suggest that alcoholism is an existential problem, not a medical one.  I think we need to resist the modern trend to medicalise personal unhappiness. I didn’t know Charles Kennedy, but if as you suggest, loneliness, isolation, pressure and depression are what caused Kennedy’s excessive, and solitary drinking, then surely those who sought to advise and help him needed to assist him in overcoming those problems, which were the cause of his unhappiness, rather than seeking to book him into a clinic that would address their symptoms. I don’t know, he was your friend not mine, but if someone is unable to walk unaided, should we blame the crutch?

In both your TV appearance and your article you used Charles Kennedy’s death to dramatize what you think needs to happen at the policy level to tackle alcoholism. You refer to England’s relationship with alcohol as “a disaster waiting to happen”; and to the need for politicians to understand that “unless we as a country face up to the damage being wreaked by addiction across families and communities, overwhelming our NHS, tying up our police and filling our courts and prisons, then there will be many more Charles Kennedys.” And on TV you re-stated that we have a “cultural problem” with alcohol, and you cited a personal anecdote about drunken teenagers on a train as evidence. Indeed that was the only piece of evidence you provided in support of your assertions.

In a genuine attempt to fill this fact-free zone, I offer this list of alcohol-related problems, all of which have fallen dramatically over the past decade: young adults drinking frequently down 66%; per-capita alcohol consumption down 18%; 25-44 year-olds binge drinking down 24%; and amongst 16-24 year-olds down 38%; alcohol consumed in pubs and bars down 26%. And as for alcohol-related crime: criminal damage down 48%; murder down 44%; violent crime down 35%; domestic violence down 28% and public order offences down 9%. And an NHS “overwhelmed” by alcohol? Nowhere have the problems caused by alcohol been more greatly exaggerated than in relation to the NHS – the cost to the NHS caused directly or indirectly by alcohol in England is approximately 3% of its annual budget. Overwhelmed?

In the light of these facts (which you can verify for yourself if you look at ONS statistics), how do you arrive at the conclusion that we as a nation have a relationship with alcohol that is a “disaster waiting to happen”? To be blunt: it’s an emotional conclusion, not a rational one. It doesn’t surprise me that you have been recruited as an ambassador for Alcohol Concern – like all true believers they love a repentant sinner, it confirms their sanctimonious sense of self-righteousness. What does surprise me is that you seem to have uncritically bought into their policy conclusions that we need to reduce alcohol’s availability, affordability and its advertising.

Alastair, we have a name for the desire to restrict everyone’s choices around alcohol because a small minority of people make bad choices. It’s called ‘puritanism’.

Yours sincerely

Paul Chase


The aftermath of a general election provides the opportunity for a bit of special pleading. So here are my 10 pieces of advice to the Secretaries of State and civil servants of all those government departments whose remit impacts on the licensed retail sector (Treasury, Home Office, Health and BIS at least):

Dear Minister/Sir Humphrey
  1. When considering policy proposals, please bear in mind the distinction between real ‘public health’ (scientific medicine, sewage disposal, refuse collection, clean drinking water, hygienically produced food and the like) and the ideology of ‘healthism’ (puritanism, nanny-statism, coercive lifestyle regulation, enforced product reformulation, sin taxes and a general tendency towards world domination).
  2. When so-called ‘evidence-based’ alcohol and food policy proposals are put to you, don’t confuse ‘evidence’ with ‘eminence’. The two words sound the same, but they don’t mean the same. ‘Evidence’ is real science from which policy recommendations flow. ‘Eminence’ is cited in support of junk science for a pre-determined policy proposal - to which a spurious authority is lent because it’s publicised by someone who says “Don’t you know who the bloody hell I am?” Minimum pricing and Professor Sir Ian Gilmore comes to mind. 
  3. When considering ‘research evidence’ in relation to the alcohol we drink, don’t confuse ‘causation’ with ‘correlation’ or ‘association’. Example: smoking tobacco causes lung cancer. It is also highly correlated with drinking beer because a lot of people who like a fag, like a pint. Therefore beer drinking is ‘associated’ with lung cancer. The deliberate conflation of causation with correlation is what enables healthists to make exaggerated claims about alcohol-related health-harms.
  4. Please recognise that healthists can and do pluck facts and figures out of thin air. The ‘sensible drinking’ limits and the BMI cut-off points for ‘normal weight’, ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ are salient examples. And if you are a civil servant, please try and persuade ministers not to say “Alcohol abuse costs the taxpayer/NHS/society £21 billion a year and leads to 1.2 million hospital admissions” because neither of these numbers are true, and anyway the minister quoting them doesn’t have a clue where they come from.
  5. Please bear in mind that it isn’t the availability of alcohol that makes people drink it. So healthist policy proposals that seek to reduce availability (close pubs) will not impact on harmful consumption. If there is a high-density of licensed premises in a given area, that’s because there are lots of people who like a drink living in, or resorting to, the area concerned. Demand begets supply, not the other way round.
  6. Please understand, that with the exception of new product launches, advertising beverage alcohol products (or any product), does not drive primary demand, it facilitates brand or category switching. So, please recognise that proposals to restrict the advertising of alcohol are about de-normalising drinking, not “protecting children”.
  7. As a matter of priority you should stop the public funding of anti-alcohol political lobby groups, such as Alcohol Concern, by government departments and quangos like Public Health England - who recently gave AC half a million pounds to fund its latest failed campaign - otherwise known as ‘Dry January’. 
  8. Recognise that claims such as “the binge-drinking epidemic, and the obesity time-bomb” will “bankrupt the NHS” if not tackled immediately by sin taxes, are bollocks.
  9. And in conjunction with the point above, please recognise that the notion that sin taxes will make people more virtuous is a fundamentally improbable proposition. Actually, all sin taxes do is distort markets and disproportionately impact upon the poor. So, no sugar or fat taxes please!
  10. Recognise that ‘healthism’ is the ideology of ‘the health of the nation’; it is dogmatic and totalitarian. If you’re unsure if a policy proposal is healthist or not, just ask yourself whether Andy Burnham or Dianne Abbot would be likely to support it, and if they would – don’t do it!
I make the special pleadings above more in hope than anticipation, because the healthist fifth column has infiltrated not just our healthcare system, but our medical research establishment and the neo-Trotskyite World Healthist Organisation – sorry ‘World Health Organisation’.  “Health in every policy” is an iniquitous credo that seeks to assert that populations must be governed in a way that subordinates all other considerations, such as jobs and investment, to a narrow, dogmatic, coercive notion of public health that nobody has voted for.


You’ve got to hand it to the health lobby – when it comes to consistent messaging they could teach the politicians and the election strategists a thing or two. We’ve just had ‘oral hearings’ before the European Court of Justice concerning the legality of minimum unit pricing (MUP). These hearings arose because of the legal challenge mounted by the Scotch Whisky Association and others to the Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce MUP in Scotland. This is a test case that will decide whether Scotland and other temperance-minded countries in Europe are free to introduce this measure.

As if by magic we have the publication on Wednesday of an OECD report into alcohol harms which made a number of claims about UK consumption that are demonstrably false. These claims were faithfully and uncritically repeated in a number of media outlets, including the BBC. And of course our own domestic healthists couldn’t resist the temptation to parrot the nonsense. Below is the press release from the Royal Society for Public Health:

New research which shows alcohol consumption in the UK is on the rise is a stark reminder of the pressing need for tougher action.

RSPH have long been advocating for the implementation of a range of measures to combat alcohol-related harm, including minimum unit pricing, calorie labelling and compulsory PSHE education, and urge the new government to take action.

The report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked the UK above average in the study which compared the 34 wealthiest countries. It drew particular attention to increased consumption among women and 11-15 year olds. (My bolding).

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health commented: “This report clearly demonstrated that softer methods to discourage excessive drinking have not been successful and adds further weight to the need for stricter controls. It is particularly worrying to see increases in drinking among young people and the new government urgently needs to implement a tougher strategy to stop this upward trend.

Our research has already shown demonstrated an appetite exists for improved labelling for alcohol, so what are we waiting for? There is no one-size-fits-all approach and we urgently need a range of policies and tactics which can influence behaviour across the population and protect the health of generations to come.”

Note the pious tone of the above and the call for tougher action necessitated by these ‘new facts’. However, the factual inaccuracies of this were then challenged by beer writer Pete Brown who wrote to RSPH as follows:

“I was surprised to read your press release on rising alcohol consumption given that every official data source shows a decline in both claimed behaviour as monitored by ONS and actual market data. I'm particularly surprised to read that drinking is rising among 11-15 year-olds, as numerous studies indicate that it's plummeting. When I followed the link the study wasn't available. Could you please explain why you think alcohol consumption is rising, and send me the data that seems to show this, including methodology? I look forward to your reply. Kind regards Pete Brown.”
Pete’s email absolutely nailed it, and elicited this response from RSPH:

Hi Pete, 

Thank you for your email. We were referring to the findings of the recent OECD report however have since been alerted to several inaccuracies in the report and took our comment down immediately. We are currently reviewing the claims in depth and will be issuing a statement later in the week. Many thanks.

 Kate Sanger
 Communications Manager, Royal Society for Public Health

Subsequently RSPH has amended the offending parts of their post to read:

“We welcome the OECD report which has brought tackling alcohol related harm back into the spotlight.

We are however concerned that the figures in the report do not correlate with official government statistics which lean towards a downward trend for alcohol consumption and binge drinking in the UK. It is important the public is presented with an accurate picture of the nation’s health and an evidence base that is robust. The health and social consequences of excessive drinking are too serious to risk confusing the public.”

Oops, red faces all round at the RSPH! A couple of things occur to me about this climb-down: firstly, why didn’t RSPH check the facts before publishing this nonsense with all the authority of their status behind it, and why didn’t the media? Secondly, will their retraction be given the same prominence as their original statement? Various other self-appointed, socially-accredited experts also pronounced including, inevitably, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance. They are all so desperate to influence the decision of the ECJ in relation to minimum pricing that they don’t care if the ‘facts’ they publish are true or not. This is another example of the technique of the ‘noble lie’ – it’s OK to tell ’em as long as you do so in a noble cause.

The OECD report goes on to advocate the usual stuff about rising levels of consumption being down to increases in availability, cheap prices and cunningly designed adverts – all of which need laws passing so as to reduce availability (close pubs), raise price (increase alcohol duty and introduce MUP) and ban alcohol advertising and sport sponsorship. One interesting trend highlighted by the report was the high rates of problem drinking among educated women. Apparently nearly one in five women from the highest educated groups drink to hazardous levels compared to one in ten among the least educated group. And then they advocate minimum pricing as the solution!
You couldn’t make this up, but fortunately they already have.