Tuesday 5 January 2016

"We need more teetotallers"

An article appeared on the front page of the Scotsman on Sunday which was unusual in containing absolutely nothing that supported its opening line.

New evidence that shows even a small amount of alcohol can contribute to heart disease has prompted calls for government drinking guidelines to be tightened.

It would have to be pretty impressive evidence to overturn the large body of epidemiological evidence showing that moderate drinkers have lower rates of mortality than teetotallers (see here, here and the graph below - nb. there are 8 grams of alcohol in a UK unit).

So where is it? Alas, the Scotsman does not tell us. It doesn't say who the researchers are or what the research shows. It doesn't tell us when and where it will be published. The 'new evidence' might as well not exist. It probably doesn't.

Instead, the story is based entirely on the opinion of one academic, Professor Naveed Sattar of Glasgow University, who says that all the previous research is 'flawed'. This is a merchant of doubt routine that we saw last year from the neo-temperance lobby. They hate the fact that drinking can be good for your health and are determined to have the drinking guidelines revised towards zero.

“We are looking at new evidence that even small amounts of alcohol may not prevent against heart disease and may in fact be harmful,” he said.

Show us the evidence, Naveed. Get it peer reviewed and published so we can judge for ourselves.

“If people think drinking wine or beer will protect their heart, evidence is not solid on this at all. Some people think it is okay to have a second glass of wine. They think ‘this is good for my heart’, but new evidence does not support this.”

Why not publish it? Why go straight to the media?

He said current guidelines are based on research that fails to take into account that many people who describe themselves as teetotal don’t drink because they are already unwell and at higher risk of death – so called “sick quitters”.

How many more times are we going to hear this zombie argument about sick quitters? It was first made in 1988 and has been tested to death (see here, here, here and here). It doesn't stack up. Anyone who drags this old canard up without acknowledging that it has been debunked is more of an activist than a scientist.

“As a national health policy we need to help people take control of their own health – it’s not about a nanny state. We need more teetotallers and youngsters to be exposed to alcohol at a much older age."

And the mask slips. "We need more teetotallers". This could be the slogan of any booze-hating crusader of the last 200 years. It is not a scientific message. It is not a health message. It is not even a temperance message in the literal sense, since temperance means moderation. Total abstinence is the message of the zealot, the fanatic, the prohibitionist.

From the perspective of health, we do not need more teetotallers. We need more moderate drinkers. If policy was derived from evidence, the Chief Medical Officer would be talking about the scourge of abstinence-related heart disease and calling for tough action on those who fail to drink at least a pint of beer a day.

But policy is not derived from the evidence. The policies come first. Evidence that isn't consistent with them is condemned as 'flawed' and new evidence is created (or claimed to have been created) to support the policies. Since alcohol policies are nothing more than rebadged tobacco policies, it should not be surprising that the 'no safe level' mantra is being borrowed from the anti-smoking racket.

This fanaticism is increasingly influential in Scotland. In October, the Scottish taxpayer was forced to pay for the explicitly teetotal Global Alcohol Policy Alliance to hold a conference which ended with a resolution to fight alcohol marketing because it 'encourages the loss of abstention'. Alcohol Concern signed up to it. And Naveed Sattar is not just some random academic with strange views...

Sattar heads the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network group, which develops clinical guidelines for the NHS in Scotland and is now looking at changing drinking guidelines in light of the fresh evidence.

The lunatics are taking over the asylum.

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