Thursday, 14 January 2010

Going gooey for the kids

We have got a problem really. The news is a little full of stuff about alcohol and it's supposed threat to the health and moral well-being of the country. Pete Brown is continuing to dispel the myths on his blog and the level of deceit contained in The Parliamentary Health Select Committee Report on Alcohol is incredible. Bearing in mind that government legislation is likely to be influenced by such scaremongery, I'm increasingly thinking that some form of action is required which consists of more than just sitting at a keyboard writing great essays on the subject, as good as those writings might be.

Today on the news we see that comedian Bill Bailey, a guy with a great name, is fronting a campaign to educate kids on the dangers of alcohol. Yet more negative exposure for alcohol. How do we deal with this?

But wait! Is this really so bad? I have always said that the solution to alcohol problems is not legislation but education. Although I might not quite agree with all the points Bill makes in the interview I've linked to above, there is some sense being talked I feel.

My partner Ann used to be a Paediatric Nurse. A regular occurrence on her ward was the treatment of drunken young people between the ages of  11-16 years. Brought into the hospital incapable, semiconscious or unconscious and probably suffering from hypothermia. They were perhaps found by the police in the park having consumed a large quantity of Diamond White cider that had been bought by an older sibling or friend who might or might not be over the age of 18.

Invariably these individuals were dripped with dextrose-saline solution to combat the critical levels of alcohol in their blood and the effects on the physiology of the patient. Without this treatment severe health risks occur including possible death. The unfortunate by-product of this treatment is that much of the symptoms of excess drinking that most of us are aware of in the morning after a good night, have been reduced by the re-hydrating effect of the drip. The patient does not have a significant hangover. However, as the levels of alcohol measured in the patients blood are potentially fatal, lack of treatment is not an option.

Now this is not the norm for young people. Very few end up in hospital, so I'm not suggesting it is endemic in the young population, but it is there and is a problem that the health experts know about. I broadly support the educating initiative as a parent, and hope that it helps young people to respect alcohol.

I'm not siding with the neo-prohibitionists; they are indeed a problem. However, as a licensee I can cite plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest a proportion of the population, not, I hasten to add, the majority, have an unhealthy attitude to alcohol. We cannot ignore this.

I've said before that part of the problem with the negative press surrounding alcohol is that the perceived problem does exist to some extent. OK, the way it is reported and the suggested remedies are way out of proportion and additionally there is significant evidence to suggest that the problem is diminishing. However, if we are to tackle negative press then we also have to have one eye on how we would deal with the perceived problems of alcohol abuse. Much of the electorate are parents or grandparents, suggesting that alcohol is a problem to their own offspring instigates gooey knee-jerk compliance. Any noises from us about inaccuracies in reports will largely be ignored.


Curmudgeon said...

I have never questioned that:

(a) there is significant alcohol-related disorder in many town and city centres at weekends, and

(b) a minority of people do drink at levels that in the long term will do serious damage to their health

But the problem is that all the measures proposed by the authorities will affect everybody, not just the minority of troublemarkers and abusers, and moderate drinkers are demonised by government guidelines.

Also, if you give concessions to the neo-Prohibitionists (even if such concessions seem reasonable) they will never be satisfied and will just come back for more.

Mark said...

Dave, a question: where can one buy dextrose-saline solution? It sounds magical!

The problem is not the product, it's how it's used, and so you are right and it's all about education. The trouble is, it's easier to ban/change legislation to make it look like things are happening quicker, and it's probably an easier solution, but it isn't a good solution.

It is grass roots and it comes from the home. Parents who smoke invariably have kids who smoke...

Woolpack Dave said...

Curmudgeon, I agree that the measures will effect everybody and that is the problem. However, to look back at the smoking ban is useful; there are some, including me, who think that if the industry did much more voluntarily before the ban then the ban might not have been imposed.

Many pubs would have benefited from room segregation and/or better ventilation. The industry instead just objected saying any change was unacceptable.

I fear that an unbalanced approach by us will be seen as coming from a group of piss-heads who are part of the problem.

Séan Billings said...

Has anyone thought of approaching the medical community with the evidence of how the figures are being manipulated?

They know about alcohol related harm, but are swallowing the neo-prohibitionist line about what legislation is effective in curbing the causal factors. I think that they are simply failing to think about it because "it stands to reason that if the price goes up, people will buy less", without considering that
1. that is not actually what happens when the price of alcohol goes up
2. a reduction in per capita consuption does not mean a reduction in alcohol related harm
3. price inflation of various kinds has been tried in lots of countries and every one of those places still has very high levels of alcohol related harm to this day.

I think if you could get them to sit down and actually examine what happens when this kind of stuff was tried in the past, they might begin to think critically about it and start to challenge their own assumptions and those of the neo-prohibitionists who have been pulling the wool over their eyes.

The key would be to appeal to them as scientists, then maybe you could actually get a debate based on fact, not just scaremongering.

Just a thought.

Rob said...

On a whole I recon Bill has a good idea. I mean with smoking and sex ed the story is similar, education matters.

StringersBeer said...

Séan, I gather that evidence on price sensitivity in so-called problem drinkers is scanty, but I read that
at the population level, alcohol consumption is
responsive to price

and that
many studies have concluded that heavier drinkers are more
responsive to price than non-heavy drinkers.

I wonder how many studies have concluded that heavier drinkers aren't more responsive?

Quoted by
I think they're referencing:
K Sewell: International Alcohol Policies: A Selected Literature Review. Scottish
Executive Central Research Unit

I think that many in the medical community are well aware of the evidence. Problem with science is that (not coming directly from the mouth of god) it's not always completely clear or indisputable.

Curmudgeon said...

The demand for pretty much everything is responsive to price to some degree, but I would have thought that the price elasticity of demand for alcoholic drinks was well below 1, i.e. a 1% rise in price produces much less than a 1% fall in consumption.

Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

Woolpack Dave,

You are being frighteningly naive here. There was NO EVIDENCE WHATEVER that banning smoking in pubs would improve people's health (let's get this quite clear...NO EVIDENCE WHATEVER). The ban was imposed because the Establishment are Temperance Fanatics who will stop at nothing to prevent oiks like you and me from drinking.

Appeasement of these people has proven to be uniformly disastrous, so let us forget that option. We will be portrayed as piss-heads whatever we do; when faced with complete disaster, defiance is the only response.

Please do not assume that 'underage drinking' or 'excessive drinking' is the target; these things will be progressively redefined to include all drinking.

Woolpack Dave said...

Curmudgeon, I believe you are very much right. Indeed I seem to think that I have some hard data somewhere on that. It's the converse argument about reducing the price of beer as a magic solution for pubs. Cheap average price of beer does not make punters buy proportionally more and certainly not enough more to counter the drop in price.

Of course the cheap crappy pubs will always be full of horrible piss-heads.

Stringers point about it effecting heavy drinkers more might have some basis in fact. After all, when they run out of money they can't drink anymore. Most sensible drinkers stop when they know it is time to stop and will still have money left.

Brian, I don't think it's the heath issue that got the smoking ban through but more the fact that more than 50% of the population don't smoke and hate the smell of smokers.

With drink, although the health argument is getting the heath experts on side, the general public just don't want the streets and pubs full of objectionable piss-heads. Nor do I as it happens, which is why I can see their point.

My view is changing a little not helped by a brief conversation I had the other day with somebody I know who regularly drinks to oblivion and often only goes home when he's run out of money. "If pubs sold beer at £1 a pint they'd be crammed"

Yes, I thought, with the likes of you.

StringersBeer said...

Various estimates for elasticity for booze are out there

I guess it's a number that can change quite a lot as circumstances change. I've seen -0.76 and we are told the treasury has been using -1.0 (both for beer - other drinks have other numbers)

whatever, fairly close to -1 might be a good guess.

Of course the point of minimum pricing is that it doesn't affect everybody equally, but disproportionally those buying cut-price booze. Which is why some consider it the least unpalatable of the "the measures proposed by the authorities". Of course it might be seen as another way of enriching the supermarkets at the expense of the poor.

Whatever, it's expected that regulation (in a democracy) will apply to everyone. That's why we're none of us allowed to pick up a jug of laudanum from the apothecary's on the way home of a friday night, even though most of us really do want it for this damned ticklish cough. Shame, I say.