Tuesday 3 February 2015

David Nutt is wrong about alcohol in so many ways

David Nutt wrote an article for the Spectator Coffe House last week which contains a factual error in virtually every line. For example, alcohol is not the cheapest it has been "since the gin-epidemic of the 1700s", as he claims. France has not "priced out cheap alcohol" and its rate of liver cirrhosis is not "a third of ours". Minimum pricing would not "save the ‘responsible’ drinker significant amounts of money"—even the Sheffield modellers don't claim that. An average bottle of wine wouldn't be £3.50 under a 50p per unit system—it would be £4.50. And is nonsense to say that "the only people drinking alcohol that costs less than 50p per unit are those that contribute the most costs of alcohol harm to our society"—at least two-thirds of all alcohol is sold below 50p per unit.

Nutt talks so much utter drivel about alcohol that it makes you wonder whether you can trust what he says about anything. Dick Puddlecote has fisked his Spectator article to within an inch of its life and I recommend you read his post. However, I would like to emphasise two points.

Firstly, Nutt claims that "the cost of alcohol misuse in the UK is around £30 billion per year —about £1000 per tax-payer." This is wrong on so many levels. Most fundamentally, the £30 billion figure has been pulled out of thin air. Google it and you will find that the only webpage that contains this claim is Nutt's Spectator article. British drinkers spent £30 billion a year on alcohol, so perhaps that's what Nutt is referring to. If so, it a mistake that would shame a schoolboy.

The most commonly cited 'cost to the UK' figure is £21 billion, which is the high-end estimate from a 2003 Cabinet Office study. Not only is it the most commonly cited figure, it is also the most misrepresented figure. As I have explained in great detail elsewhere, most of these costs are not costs to taxpayers (eg. lost productivity) and some of them are only alcohol-related in the broadest sense (eg. expenditure on burglar alarms). It would be completely wrong to convert it to "£1000 per tax-payer" even if there were only 30 million taxpayers, which there aren't (I can only assume that Nutt thinks that income tax is the only tax).

In short, Nutt makes up his own figure, pretends it is something it is not, wrongly applies it to taxpayers and then gets the number of taxpayers wrong.

Secondly, Nutt cites the 'Canadian experience' as real world evidence that minimum pricing works:

'Real life experience in a province in Canada showed that introduced [sic] minimum pricing recently found a 10% increase in minimum unit price led to a 30% reduction in alcohol deaths.'

At least he has a source this time. He is referring to a widely-reported study which claimed that increases in the minimum price of alcohol in British Columbia between 2005 and 2008 led to a fall in alcohol-related deaths. The study came from the pen of Tim Stockwell who just happens to be the world's leading advocate of minimum pricing. More to the point, the study is junk. There was never a 10 per cent hike in the minimum price and there was never a fall in alcohol deaths, let alone a "30 per cent reduction". The study does not tell us about "real life experience". It is largely based on a statistical model and its findings are completely at odds with the province's health data.

In 2013, the Centre for Addictions Research of BC [British Columbia] reported that:

A 2012 report from the same organisation showed that rates of hospitalisations for alcohol 'overdoses' rose from 4.4 per 100,000 in 2002 to 5.1 per 100,000 in 2009.

Between 2002 and 2011, the number of deaths directly attributed to alcohol in British Columbia rose from 315 to 443, with the largest annual death rates occurring after the minimum price rises of 2006.

Every piece of independent evidence contradicts the claim that minimum pricing has reduced alcohol-related health problems in British Columbia.

Since Nutt focuses on drinking amongst young people, it is also worth looking at Quebec, where minimum pricing is also in force (supported by brewers for self-interested reasons). It was recently reported that:

'The National Public Health Institute of Quebec (INSPQ) has released the results of a new study indicating that the number of youth between 12 and 35 years old who drink excessively increased 10% from 2000 to 2012. The number of youth 22 to 27 years old drinking excessively increased 22% over a 10-year time frame, which was the largest increase observed.'

Contrast this with the situation in Britain, where the number of 11-15 year olds who have drunk alcohol in the last week has plumetted from 26 per cent in 2001 to 12 per cent in 2012 (see graph below).

The facts are clear. Minimum pricing has had no measureable effect on alcohol consumption, underage drinking or alcohol-related mortality in Canadian provinces. Advocates such as David Nutt should stop referring to the 'Canadian experience'. Like almost everything in his article, it is rubbish.

1 comment:

Christopher Snowdon said...

But Chris, you fail to understand the modus operandum of prohibitionists the world over.

IT DOESN'T MATTER if it's complete and utter tripe.

As long as the MSM pick it up and run with it, it might as well be God's Own Truth. I'm sure we will soon be seeing articles in The Daily Fail etc quoting Nutt's figures, and ABRACADABRA! - it becomes reality!

Questions are then asked by the gullible ones trying to 'leave a legacy' in the HoC, and before you know it, laws are drafted based on the fantasy.

They know exactly how to work the system. It's why we're where we are now.

And as for you, Chris, you are merely a blogger, researcher and author, and the organisations you are a part of actually take the shilling of (whisper it) BIG TOBACCO! (Shocked gasp!) So however accurate and well researched your output may be, you can be dismissed out of hand as a Tobacco (or Drinks - it's all the same to the Neo-Puritans) industry shill.

As I say, they've got it sewn up so tight that any dissent is treated as some sort of psychotic denialism.

The only way you will make any headway, Chris, is if you go into politics and get elected. (If it's any consolation, I'd vote for you!). Then you will be able to play them at their own game. Failing that, we all need to start investing in piano wire and scouting out suitable lamp posts.