Saturday 21 December 2013

Christmas poisonings

New York Times, 1922

In the days of Prohibition, deaths caused by drinking poisoned moonshine peaked every year at Christmas. The death toll in New York City was relatively low in 1922 (when the headline above was written), but rose in later years, not least because the prohibitionists persuaded the government to contaminate the industrial alcohol supply. It's worth reading Deborah Blum's account of Christmas Eve, 1926...

It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City's Bellevue Hospital. He was flushed, gasping with fear: Santa Claus, he kept telling the nurses, was just behind him, wielding a baseball bat.

Before hospital staff realized how sick he was—the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom—the man died. So did another holiday partygoer. And another. As dusk fell on Christmas, the hospital staff tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it. Within the next two days, yet another 23 people died in the city from celebrating the season.

Prohibition kills and so does the neo-prohibitionist policy of making alcohol unaffordable. From the BBC...

Fake vodka 'can kill you' warning to Christmas shoppers

Christmas shoppers trying to save money are being warned to look out for counterfeit alcohol, which can seriously damage health.

Trading standards say it may contain chemicals such as chloroform or industrial alcohol, which can affect eyesight, or in extreme cases, kill.

Seizures of counterfeit vodka in some areas doubled over the last year. Typically it is sold in corner shops where unscrupulous owners sell it from underneath the counter. It has also been found on sale in nightclubs.

Merry Christmas from public health! The BBC doesn't look at what factors might be driving this shift towards counterfeit spirits other than alluding to the eye-watering tax rate:

The duty and VAT alone on a legitimate 70cl bottle of vodka total £8.89.

That's a bit of a clue, isn't it? And even that is not enough for the public health racket, who want a bottle to cost at least £15 under minimum pricing. Nor is it enough for the government, who will be raising tax on wine and spirits above the rate of inflation in every budget for the foreseeable future.

Ironically, the BBC refers to the situation at Sheffield University, the home of the minimum pricing computer model. The Sheffield model doesn't bother looking at substitution effects (ie. people shifting from legal alcohol to illegal alcohol and drugs), but it should. As alcohol has become less affordable in recent years thanks to tax rises and lower wages, seizures of moonshine have quadrupled in Sheffield.

Fake vodka seizures in Sheffield

2011/12: 554 bottles

2012/13: 1,470

2013/14: 2,370

Welcome to moonshine Britain. The examples given in the BBC article revive memories of speakeasies and the jitterbug...

In once recent case, a shopkeeper in the Richmond area of Sheffield was fined £582, including costs, for keeping 674 bottles of counterfeit vodka under the counter. The council called the fine derisory.

The problem is now becoming apparent elsewhere across the country too.

In August, a nightclub in Leeds was fined for stocking vodka containing chloroform, an anaesthetic which can make you feel dizzy, and even cause a drinker to lose consciousness.

In September, HMRC seized 13,000 litres of counterfeit vodka in Scotland, one of the largest such seizures ever. It was being transported from Belfast and the lorry was intercepted as it left the ferry at Cairnryan.

In December 2013, the owner of a nightclub in Chelmsford was fined after selling fake Smirnoff which he had bought from a van just outside the club.

This shouldn't be happening in modern Britain. People shouldn't be dying from drinking moonshine. There shouldn't be counterfeit vodka being produced on an industrial scale. All of this is a direct result of the medical temperance lobby's neo-prohibitionist campaign. The more success they have, they worse things will get.

You can download my IEA report Drinking in the Shadow Economy here.


Ivan D said...

It does make one wonder if someone at the BBC really does understand the reality of the situation but is not allowed to report it. It would be lovely to believe that the wonderfully ironic choice of Sheffield University for an article on cut price dangerous illicit booze was deliberate.

Norbert Zillatron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norbert Zillatron said...

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
Prohibition has killed before. It will kill again.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions"
Puritan ascetic übernannies: Enjoy a hot afterlife. You deserve it.

Stuart H. said...

@Ivan D - I don't think the Beeb do irony, and from years of personal experience trying to get local BBC reporters to take a blind bit of notice of genuine community issues they certainly don't do legwork.
Far likelier explanation of the story is surely that it was offered with ready-made commentators and stats by the 'research establishment' in whose dubious future work such corner shop banter and folk myth will feature so prominently.