The BBC's minimum pricing campaign continues to tick along. Today's story is a straightforward cut and paste from a press release issued by the National End of Life Care Programme. I've never heard of them either, but they are funded by the Department of Health so it is no surprise to find them engaging in thinly-veiled political lobbying.
Liver disease deaths reach record levels in EnglandDeaths from liver disease in England have reached record levels, rising by 25% in less than a decade, according to new NHS figures.
You can guess where this is leading, I'm sure, so without any further ado let's hear from the chief executive of Alcohol Con.
The chief executive of Alcohol Concern, Eric Appleby, said: "This report shows that loss of life through alcoholic liver disease remains as big a problem as ever, with a worrying tendency for those with the highest deprivation to suffer most, leading to a distinct north/south divide.
"Minimum pricing of alcohol should do much to impact on the levels of drinking that lead to alcoholic liver disease, but health service commissioners must prioritise the disease at the local level too, focusing on ways to catch problem drinking early and so help to reduce the huge social and economic cost of the current death rate."
Readers with a keen ear for the weasel word might have noticed Appleby's slightly guarded description of alcoholic liver disease as being "as big a problem as ever", rather than—as the BBC would have you believe—a problem which has reached "record levels". This is because he knows that rates of alcoholic liver disease are not at record levels. They actually fell in the last year for which we have data, as the Office for National Statistics reported.
...between 2008 and 2009, the total number of deaths directly related to alcohol consumption fell by 2.7% (from 6,768 in 2008 to 6,584 in 2009), this is the first year-on-year decrease in the series. The main contributor to the overall decrease was a 5.6% decrease in deaths from alcoholic liver disease (from 4,400 in 2008 to 4,154 in 2009).
For those who crave visual stimuli, this is how the mortality figures for alcoholic liver disease look over the last decade.
I don't wish to make too much of a one year decline, although I do wonder if the story would have been reported rather differently if this was a graph of heart attack mortality following a smoking ban that had been introduced in January 2009. The fact that mortality from this disease fell between 2008 and 2009 does not mean that everything in the garden is rosy, but several things are worth mentioning.
Firstly, whether the disease kills 3,000 or 4,000 people a year, there are 51,000,000 of us living in this country (the figures are for England). You can always say that even one death is too many, but that is just sentimental, unrealistic rhubarb. Simply put, this is not an epidemic. We are talking about a rare disease brought on by extreme, chronic drinking and a serious addiction that afflicts mercifully few of us. Minimum pricing is not going to stop these people drinking any more than extreme poverty stops the homeless drinking. The problem is much deeper than the stunted minds of the tax-and-ban neo-temperance movement will ever understand.
Secondly, even if it is true that deaths from liver disease rose between 2008 and 2009, it is clear that alcoholic liver disease cannot have been responsible for the rise, as that fell by more than 5%. If Alcohol Concern are so concerned about the overall rate reaching "record levels", perhaps they should look at the underlying causes of the non-alcohol related cases which were responsible. In slight mitigation to the BBC, they do briefly mention obesity and hepatitis, albeit next to a photo of a pint of lager.
Thirdly, and most infuriatingly, nothing in this article—which looms large on the BBC's News website as I write this—is in any way news. All it does is remind us for the umpteenth time that rates of alcoholic liver disease are higher now than they were in 2001, but without mentioning the inconvenient fact that they may have peaked in 2008.
The statistics mentioned in the article were released nearly a year ago (Straight Statistics discussed them at the time). The BBC has referred to the long-term increase in deaths from liver disease in countless news stories, including such impartial gems as 'Liver specialist: Action needed on drinking culture', 'Alcohol policy a joke, says British Liver Trust' and 'Thousands are 'at risk of alcohol death' say doctors'. There is nothing new here whatsoever. A wing of the Department of Health has repackaged some old statistics and sent them out to lazy journalists with some helpful quotes from campaigners, that's all. They are not "new NHS figures". This is no more a news story than 'Brazil won lots of World Cups' is a sports story.
The only statistic that can be considered remotely current or newsworthy is the recent decline in the rate of alcoholic liver disease and, indeed, of alcohol-related deaths generally, but that doesn't get a look in. Nor does the fact that per capita alcohol consumption has fallen dramatically in the last five years (as I reported in a recent post).
This is churnalism, plain and simple, and politically motivated churnalism at that. Day after day, the BBC report any old junk and trivia fed to them by state-funded temperance groups who are clamouring for minimum pricing.