Friday 21 September 2018

Drinkaware and the scream test

Public Health England's collaboration with Drinkaware for the 'two days off drinking' campaign is of little interest to the general public but has produced a hell of a squeal from 'public health'. Two weeks after the announcement, the hot takes are still coming. Here are a few of them...

The gist of these articles (they are all essentially the same) is that the government wouldn't work with the tobacco industry so they shouldn't work with the alcohol industry. This is the fabled slippery slope in action. By this logic, they shouldn't work with the food industry either, but they are working with the food industry - on labelling, reformulation and other things beside. They also work with the alcohol industry on drink driving, underage sales and much more. The wingnuts of the nanny state probably think that the industry wants people to drink drive because - as they keep claiming - their interests are irreconcilably at odds with those of 'public health'.

This is dogmatic nonsense and you have to be deep down the temperance rabbit hole not to laugh at it. Telling people to go teetotal for at least a couple of days a week isn't bad advice. It's not going eradicate liver disease but nor will the grab bag of nanny state interventions favoured by the people who have been spitting their dummies out of their pram for the last fortnight.

Alcohol Focus Scotland's Alison Douglas has often advised the public to have drink-free days in the past (see here and here, for example), but now that Drinkaware are saying it, she no longer thinks it is good advice. You couldn't ask for a better illustration of the fact that it's not about health for these people.

Or take this from a BMJ article with the hysterical headline 'Public Health England's capture by the alcohol industry' by the terrible trio of Ian Gilmore, Linda Bauld and John Britton...

The question that senior PHE managers do not seem to have asked themselves in the process of entering into this partnership, and certainly did not ask their alcohol leadership advisory board, is why the alcohol industry is happy to fund a campaign that ostensibly aims to reduce alcohol consumption. Had they done so they would have received the answer that the industry does so because it thinks the campaign will be ineffective or will divert attention from other more effective policies to reduce alcohol consumption that the industry fears more, such as minimum unit pricing.

Who needs evidence when you have sweeping assertions? "If they'd asked us, this is what we would have said, therefore it is the truth."

Like rain bringing worms to the surface, the PHE collaboration has drawn the worst people in 'public health' out to bat. Today, the Lancet published an equally woeful op-ed by the equally awful trio of Mark Petticrew, Martin McKee and Theresa Marteau, who say...

In its defence, PHE points to Drinkaware's independent governance. Drinkaware revised its governance after a critical evaluation, but its new model did not prevent Drinkaware and other industry bodies from disseminating messages that could mislead the public about the risk of cancer from alcohol consumption, using strategies similar to the tobacco and other industries.

Their evidence for this comes from an article Petticrew wrote last year which was full of errors (some people would call them lies) and totally misrepresented what Drinkaware say about alcohol and cancer. In a serious scientific discipline, the article would have been retracted.

Bhattacharya and colleagues report that in England about two-thirds of alcohol sales revenue comes from people drinking above guideline levels; if all drinkers followed recommended drinking guidelines, the industry would lose almost 40% of its revenue. The lead author of that study stated in a press release: “The government should recognise just how much the industry has to lose from effective alcohol policies, and be more wary of its attempts to derail meaningful action through lobbying and offers of voluntary partnership.”

Bhattacharya represents the Institute of Alcohol Studies (née the UK Temperance Alliance) and his study was economically illiterate garbage. His comments to the press, as with the conclusion of his study, were based on the fallacy that businesses chase revenue over profit.

This is what happens when you pride yourself on not having anything to do with the industry that makes the product about which you claim to be an expert. Knowing nothing, you can make up little fantasies in your head. That can work OK so long as you only associate with other conspiracy theorists, but take those ideas into the real world and people are likely to make fun of you.

And when even the people at Public Health England - Public Health fricking England - start to worry about your extremism, it's time to take a cold bath.

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