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 www.oecd.org 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.