Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What has David Nutt been smoking?

[nb. I am not the Devil's Kitchen]

Do these bone-headed prohibitionists run a one in, one out system or something? It's as if every liberal action has to be accompanied by an equal and opposite illiberal reaction. 

On Monday, Britain's leading temperance nut Ian Gilmore (I refuse to acknowledge his knighthood, as with Alex Ferguson)—a man who has led a non-stop, evidence-free war on the pleasurable vices of booze and tabs—bravely opined that drugs should be decriminalised. (Not that bravely, actually, since he's just stood down as president of the Royal College of Physicians.)

And now we have Prof. David Nutt. He kicked up a stink last year when he said that LSD and ecstasy are safer than alcohol and should be decriminalised. Having annoyed Alan Johnson, the Nutty Professor is now doing his utmost to piss everybody else off with this mephitic pile of heinous horse manure...
The past 50 years have seen the worst epidemic of public harm from a legal drug since the introduction of cheap gin in the 1700s. 

I know what you're thinking—smoking. And you'd be right, but only in a factual sense, and David Nutt exists in another realm altogether. When he said that ecstasy was safer than alcohol, many took him to be pro-drugs. In fact he is just very, very anti-alcohol.
Although alcohol intake has doubled in this period, alcohol related harms have increased many times more on account of the culture of heavy and, particularly, binge drinking that has developed. There are a number of reasons for this epidemic. 

Here's a few off the top my head—people have more money, they get married later in life, religion is on the wane, its more acceptable for women to drink, the government has drastically altered the definition of a binge and the NHS has dramatically altered the definition of both 'alcohol related' diseases and 'alcohol related hospital admissions'. How's that for starters?
The major ones have been the last government’s policies of reducing the real price of alcohol...

Oh, for fuck's sake. How many times have we got to go through this? The real price of alcohol has not fallen. The Office of National Statistics has made this crystal clear:
Between 1980 and 2008, the price of alcohol increased by 283.3%. After considering inflation (at 21.3%), alcohol prices increased by 19.3% over the period.

Alcohol prices may have fallen relative to income but, thanks to the glory of free market capitalism, so has everything. You would have to be naive of economics to confuse that with the 'real price' of alcohol, ie. adjusted for inflation.
...and increasing drinking hours...

Let's have a look at the actual evidence of how much 'binge-drinking' has changed over the years and see if we can find any upsurge since the licensing laws were relaxed.

These tables come from, which concludes:
The striking thing about these tables is how relatively little change they show over 16 years, with the exception of a sharp increase between 2005 and 2006. This is an artefact caused by a revised methodology for converting volumes of alcohol to units, assuming an average wine glass size.

Notice also that the people who are 'binge-drinking' more are aged over 45—not normally the type associated with town centre mayhem—while there has been a sharp drop in the number of young men drinking more than their weekly limits (limits which were, as we all know, based on no evidence at all and were plucked out of thin air). the massive increase in the marketing of alcohol in supermarkets, often as a loss-leader.

I tire of saying this, so please, someone tell me where I can get alcohol below cost-price. I would sincerely love to know. I have a car and am prepared to travel.
So what should the coalition do to reduce the harms of alcohol? Here are my top twenty suggestions:

Let's have a look at some of the best.
Make alcohol a national health priority: current estimates are that the damage from alcohol costs the NHS the order of £20bn per year and the violence it induces cost £7 billion in police time.

That's news to me, Nutty. Last I heard, the alleged cost to the NHS was £2.7 billion, which is a nice little earner for the state because it gets £8.2 billion in alcohol duty. Perhaps Nutter is thinking of NICE's scarcely believable "cost to society" estimate of £27 billion, which was based on spurious "costs" to employers (rather than taxpayers) while ignoring all the billions generated by drinks sales and the night-time economy. 
Increase alcohol tax to bring the cost of alcohol in real terms back to where it was in the 1950s before the progressive rise in consumption started, i.e. gradually, say over 5 years, triple the price. 

You read that right. He's talking about making a pint cost £10 to £15. Leaving aside the fact that Nutt doesn't understand the meaning of "real terms", on what planet is a 60% annual price rise "gradual"? The reason alcohol consumption was low in the 1950s is that it was a miserable age of austerity and no one had any money. I wonder why he would pick this decade as the benchmark for acceptable drinking levels? Could it be that alcohol consumption was unusually low in the 1950s?

Yep, that'll be it. This graph only goes back to 1900, but alcohol consumption was a hell of a lot higher in previous centuries. Aside from brief dips during the First World War and the Great Depression, the 1950s saw the lowest rate of alcohol consumption in British history. All that's happened in the last sixty years is that alcohol consumption has gradually returned to something closer to the historic average. There is no justification for picking the grim 1950s as the norm and only someone blinded by temperance fever would view it as a golden age. 
All available evidence shows that the price of alcohol determines use for almost everyone with the only possible exceptions being severely dependent drinkers. 

A pretty bloody important exception, seeing as they're the ones who are realistically going to die of alcohol-related diseases. Any sane public health policy would focus on the high-risk target group, but since chronic alcoholism is nearly always the result of underlying psychological problems, the crude tax-and-ban policies espoused by the likes of Nutt are as useless. But they help feather the nest and its so much easier to go after the healthy than it is to treat the sick.

If it were true that price was the major determinant of demand for alcohol, the countries with the highest alcohol prices (Britain and Scandinavia, for example) would have the lowest rates of consumption. They don't. Higher prices do nothing to deter those least able to afford to drink (eg. the homeless) or those who are at serious risk of liver cirrhosis and throat cancer (ie. chronic alcoholics). 
The increased health burden of alcohol is largely driven by non-dependent drinkers so would be significantly reduced by an increase in price. I have estimated that the average taxpayer would save the order of £2,000 per year by the reduced costs of alcohol-related harms if we increased the price as suggested. 

Let's see. There are around 30 million taxpayers in the UK. So if each of them saves £2,000, that would be a total saving of £60 billion, which is more than twice the massively inflated NICE estimate. Even if you accept that alcohol costs the taxpayer £27 billion—which would be stupid—and even if you believe that increasing the price of alcohol would prevent all alcohol-related injuries, sick days, diseases and violence—which would be insane—there is no way in this world or the next that every taxpayer is going to save £2,000.
In the case of wine drinkers, only those consuming more than several hundred bottles a year would be worse off with this scheme, and they are drinking at a dangerous level anyway.

Does this guy think we're fucking retarded? Any increase in price is going to make the consumer worse off, whether they buy one bottle or a thousand. Trebling the price—as Nuttcase is suggesting—cannot fail to make all consumers a hell of a lot worse off, especially the poor who are (supposedly) the very people that these health demagogues care most about. Making drink more expensive is, as Sean Gabb has said, nothing more than a regressive tax on the poor.
Stop selling strong alcohol in supermarkets

Use the Swedish model where only alcoholic drinks of less than 3% can be sold outside licensed shops that have more limited opening times than supermarkets. 

That would be the state-owned and state-run Swedish system, which is a notorious pain in the arse for normal people wanting to do their shopping and does nothing to deter alcoholics from drinking themselves to death. No thanks.
Supermarket alcohol sales are not only destroying lives but also public houses and other alcohol outlets where drinking is conducted in a social manner and where intoxication can be monitored and young people can learn to drink socially and more sensibly.

There are few more nauseating sights than seeing health campaigners shed crocodile tears over the decline of pubs. You want to revive pubs? Reduce alcohol tax and amend the smoking ban. It's that simple.
Stop selling wine in larger 250 ml glasses that have crept up on use in recent years - we should go back to smaller glasses again. For a medium size female, 5 large glasses of wine in one hour will lead to a blood alcohol level of 300mg/% which is that needed to produce coma.

I can only concur with Jarkart, who left the following comment on Nuttsack's blog:
I’ve been to the pub with many, many ladies over the years, and I’ve often bought them large white wines in 250ml glasses. Not one has ever slumped into an alcoholic coma. Perhaps you should stop adding the Rohypnol, or would that stop you ever getting laid?

The next one's fairly predictable...
Repeal the 24 hr licensing law so bars close at 11pm.

Aside from the fact that '24 hour drinking' is as much of a myth as 'below-cost alcohol', why should we get rid of the only decent thing that Labour did in thirteen long, long years? Early closing was a war-time policy brought in by Lloyd-George and should have been repealed in 1918. Thanks to an unholy alliance of puritans and factory-owners, it took another 87 years. Good riddance to it. 

Have longer opening hours led to more drinking? No. Have they led to more violence? No. Do people like not having to go to some poxy nightclub to get a drink after 11pm? Yes. So have a glass of shut-the-hell-up and fuck off while you're doing it.
Make it a law that all alcohol outlets must sell non-alcoholic beers and lagers so that those who like the taste of ales can get it without the risk on intoxication. Make these drinks be sold at below the cost of equivalent alcohol-containing ones and make it obvious that they are available.

Believe me, Prof. Nutt, people who "like the taste of ales" are not going to drink non-alcoholic beer. The only time I ever bought one of these concoctions in a pub, it was two years out of date. This, I think, gives a fair indication of how popular they are with pubgoers.  
Add warning notices to all drinks warning of the damage alcohol does, as with those on cigarette packets.

Develop public campaigns to make alcohol unfashionable just as was done for tobacco.

Ban all alcohol advertising as with tobacco.

There's a theme running through these three suggestions but I can't quite put my finger on what it is. Why, it's almost as if he's using the campaign against smokers as a blueprint for a campaign against drinkers. But that can't be so, because we were told that would never happen. I'm sure I remember nonsmoking drinkers telling me that when the smoking ban came in. After all, they said, "everyone likes a drink"..."Drinking's different"..."They wouldn't dare." 

Well, it's happened now, so get in the van with everyone else, you quisling fools. 
Provide incentives to the pharmaceutical industry to develop new treatments for alcohol dependence and its consequences.

Encourage research into developing an alcohol alternative that is less dangerous, intoxicating and addictive than ethanol and for which an antidote or antagonist can be made available to prevent deaths in overdose.

Alcohol patches anyone? David Nutt has shares in GlaxoSmithKline, by the way, although I'm sure that's not at all relevant.
Ban all government supported organisations e.g. universities from having subsidised bars. Ban drinking games and pub-crawls in public organisations such as university sports and social clubs; remove financial support from clubs that allow these.

Hell's teeth in a basket. Nutt must have really been high when he wrote this one down. Even if this idea wasn't a malignant slice of teeth-grinding totalitarianism, how would it be policed? Presumably by stopping groups of two or more people going from one bar to another or by carrying out spot-checks to make sure students aren't combining drinking with—whisper it—fun. Thanks for the window into your mind, Prof Nutt. It's like taking a magnifying glass into a sewer.
Raise the drinking age to 21. When this was done in the USA in the 1990s it was estimated that over 170,00 lives were saved in road deaths.

I never thought I'd sympathise with Alan Johnson but I'm starting to see why he sacked this dolt. His grasp of the facts is appalling. For the record, none of the US states raised the drinking age to 21 in the 1990s. That all happened in the 1980s and the idea that it resulted in any reduction in road fatalities is—to put it very mildly—debatable. David Hanson explains:
It is frequently argued that raising the drinking age to 21 in the U.S. has reduced alcohol-related auto fatalities among young people. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims that thousands of lives have been saved by the minimum drinking age of 21. Unfortunately the law hasn't saved any lives at all. Instead, it has shifted alcohol-related fatalities to young people above the minimum drinking age.

Researchers at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University found that raising the drinking age to 21 simply shifted fatalities from those aged 18 to 20 to those aged 21 to 24. They concluded, on the basis of their exhaustive federally-funded study, that drinking experience, not drinking age, is the most important factor...

To believe that the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 is effective is to ignore the facts and live in a fantasy world.

A fantasy world is about right. Hilariously, Nutt's blog is called Evidence Not Exaggeration. Why not go and say hello?


Anonymous said...

Aye nutter yer a hoon ye basard giz 10p fer a tea ye fugin bazzar.

Proffesional man tired of nanny state nutt* cases.

*should read nut of course who I think reads the Mail too much.

Graham said...

Good luck telling the Armed Forces that all their bars should be closed down. Now there is a group who likes a drink....

Giolla said...

So raising the price of a pint to a tenner would produce a saving of about 2 grand each, or enough to buy 200 pints at the new inflated price?


(Or a hell of a lot more home brew)

DocBud said...

Maybe the Nutty Prof should get Michael Mann to help him with his graphs. He could eliminate the Edwardian Booze Period and the Little Temperance Age, leaving us with a nice flat line until a sudden up tick in recent years. In conjunction with Mann's other (in)famous work, it would demonstrate that we're drinking more cos it's a damn sight hotter.

Roger Thornhill said...

I just popped over to Prof Nutt's blog and was presented with an image of what can only be described as a rather diseased looking bell-end*.

How fitting.

* No, not a picture of the professor...

Anonymous said...

Just another fascist rent seeker peddling crap to brown-nose the joke government into "doing something".These educated idiots should be banned from using computers...and drinking. He didn't go to Oxford and join the Bullingdon Club by any chance did he? Their ex members seem to have a thing against the proles having a drink now and again.

Anonymous said...

"Ban all government supported organisations e.g. universities from having subsidised bars."

Would this impact the House of Commons bars I wonder...

(wv: surechug)

Anonymous said...

It's not as if alcohol duty is the only way the state gets money through booze either.

Not only is there VAT on top of this but there's also the income tax and national insurance on people who work in the drinks industry, corporation tax and property taxes as well as any taxes that these businesses pay on other outgoings such as electricity bills etc.

The cost, so we are told, is £2.7 billion to the NHS and £7.3 billion to the police. Alcohol duty plus the other taxes above would easily outweigh these costs so it would be quite nice if Mr Nutt would just shut the fuck up and leave us alone.

berenike said...

It's one of the tactics used that was used to get abortion banned - just make up your statistics. Nothing new.

That's News said...

Let's cut Nutt's proposals to there core essence, shall we?

Ban it! Ban them! Stop it! Stop them! Ban it! Ban them! Stop it! Stop them! Ban it! Ban them! Stop it! Stop them! etc. etc., etc.

That's News said...

From Wiki
Wiki article

In general, benzodiazepines are safe and effective in the short term, although cognitive impairments and paradoxical effects such as aggression or behavioral disinhibition occasionally occur.[5] Long-term use is controversial due to concerns about adverse psychological and physical effects, increased questioning of effectiveness and because benzodiazepines are prone to cause tolerance, physical dependence and upon cessation of use, a withdrawal syndrome.[6][7] Due to adverse effects associated with the long-term use of benzodiazepines withdrawal from benzodiazepines in general leads to improved physical and mental health.

Nutt believes there are no dangers of side effects from benzodiazepines? Scientists would seem to disagree with him.

But I thought Nutt was a scientist? Apparently. But not one that believes what other scientists believe.

Is the reality that it's all down to the commerical interests of Nutt? That by banning alcohol and tobacco that people will have to turn to his (the saviour of the Human Race) new synthetic alcohol substitute.

What will he call it? Nuttsoff, perhaps?

Incidentally a search for Professor Nutt on Wiki returns this: "Did you mean: Professor Nuts?"

You know, perhaps I did.

As an aside, Synthohol exists in the Star Trek series as a safe alternative to alcohol. Is Nuttsoff going to be as safe? I somehow doubt it.