Watching the social media footprint of the AMA's Alcohol Summit last week...
Warning: this article is based on the author following a hashtag of a conference she didn't attend.
...gave one clear indication – if we are thinking obesity and its social harms, don't blame the fat person. Make sure the world we live in makes it possible to eat less, move more, know where calories come from.
Because it is absolutely impossible to eat less, move more and know where calories come from in the world we live in, right? Don't blame the sinner, blame Big Food.
The author then expresses her outrage about the lack of calorie counts on wine bottles. As it happens, I agree with the Daily Mash that it is not unreasonable to expect to see calorie information discretely displayed on products that we eat and drink. It is only information, after all. The only danger is the slippery slope. If the public health racket sees calorie counts as a warning, it might only be a matter of time before they decide to add an actual warning ('this product can cause diabetes, gangrene, amputation' etc.). And if people continue to drink wine - which they will - the warning will turn into a disturbing photo and when that doesn't work, the bottle becomes one big graphic warning. That, of course, is exactly what happened with cigarettes.
Elizabeth Elliott, professor of pediatric medicine at Westmead Children's Hospital ... says that the decline in smoking rates is a model for what she hopes will happen with alcohol in Australia.
"We have done it with smoking, we can do it with alcohol."
Yeah, we know. We kinda saw this coming, to be honest with you.
So it's a matter of health. But it's also a matter of safety. Why don't bottles have warnings about pregnancy? Why don't they mention the safe number of drinks to have each week? Or the fact that your decision-making might be impaired if you drink and drive?
Why don't we have warnings on kettles telling people that they might scold themselves? Why don't matches have warnings about burning your house down?
Because warnings can only be justified if they tell you things you don't already know. They also need to stand some chance of changing your behaviour as a result.
Risks which are universally recognised do not require incessant government-mandated messages. Do people really drive drunk or get plastered when pregnant because they think it is safe? I doubt it, but even if I am wrong there are plenty of ways to impart warnings without plastering them on the side of every product all day long. The message about drink driving was not transmitted on the side of beer cans, but in public service announcements and through other conduits, including schools.
One of the problems with the public health lobby (and the author of this article) is that they assume people are morons who engage in risky behaviours because they are unenlightened. Hence they write patronising sentences like this:
And folks, let me explain, four or five drinks a night, every night, is not recommended.At the other end of the scale, you have people who see so many warnings that they ignore them all. This has been the story in California, a state that is run by risk-averse neurotics, for years. California puts out cancer warnings about licorice and coffee. It narrowly voted down proposals to put diabetes warnings on fizzy drinks. There are plans to put warnings on petrol pumps. As David Henderson says, if the government cries wolf too often, people can't tell real threats from tiny risks.
The point about the original warnings on cigarettes is that they (a) were true, (b) marked out cigarettes as an unusually dangerous consumer product, (c) persuaded many people who needed persuading, (d) informed people of a meaningful threat, and (e) had a meaningful impact on consumer behaviour.
Many of the current wave of warnings meet none of these criteria. They merely add to the noise of fear and hysteria that reasonable people block out.