Wednesday, 10 October 2018

They wouldn't let it lie

The anti-drink lobby

This is turning into my favourite story of the year and it just keeps getting funnier. From The Times...

Experts threaten public health body over link to drink industry

Hundreds of top academics have threatened to stop advising Public Health England unless it abandons plans to work with the alcohol industry.

Excellent. Shut the door on your way out.

This is all because PHE teamed up with Drinkaware to promote abstinence from alcohol on at least two days a week. Drinkaware is a charity set up by the government to promote responsible drinking. It gets most of its funding from alcohol companies and so, according to temperance dogma, is part of the 'alcohol industry'. And, according to 'public health' dogma, governments can't work with industries because they are evil.

The academics say they are “alarmed” that PHE is unconcerned by Drinkaware’s industry funding despite “clear-cut examples of inaccurate information on Drinkaware’s website.”

The claim that there is inaccurate information on the Drinkaware website is a lie based on a deeply dishonest piece of work by Mark Petticrew and a Twitter thread by Colin Angus, both of whom are signatories.

Other signatories include Petra Meier (Sheffield modeller), John Holmes (Sheffield modeller), Richard Horton (Marxist Lancet editor), Tim Lang (corn laws aficionado), Gerard Hastings ("the corporation will get you in the end"), David Miller (tinfoil hat wearer) and John Britton (anti-smoking fanatic). Even Kate Pickett, co-author of The Spirit Level, has signed it. It's a veritable Who's Who of quackademia.

John Holmes of the University of Sheffield, who organised the letter, said that while academics would not abandon PHE overnight, they would lessen co-operation if they felt they could no longer trust the agency.

A terrifying proposition! Alas, PHE supremo Duncan Selbie is having none of it...

Mr Selbie said yesterday: “Drinkaware is not the alcohol industry, rather an education charity with millions of unique visitors each year. We are taking this opportunity to ensure the advice it gives is evidenced, pragmatic and sensible. The health harms of alcohol require action. Public health has always involved controversy and we will not shy away from this."

The Times also gives them short shrift. They didn't publish the letter and instead put a story about the epidemic of teetotalism among the young on the front page. They also dedicated a leading editorial to slapping them down:

There is no good case for PHE to accede to the critics’ demands. The academics’ letter claims that “the reputational risk to the agency’s status as a provider of impartial, evidence-based advice is significant”. The critics also complain that the message on responsible drinking is part of a wider campaign on public health, and that it thereby links an industry-funded body with the notion of healthy lifestyles. Yet Drinkaware is not a front for the alcohol industry. It is an independent body whose funding comes from drinks companies rather than from the taxpayer. Provided that the relationship is transparent, it is benign and the joint campaign’s output can help Britain’s drinking culture for the public good.

The campaigning message is both sensible and realistic. The chief medical officer’s recommended upper limit for alcohol consumption is, for both sexes, 14 units a week, to limit the risk of cancer or liver damage. The campaign targets drinkers between the ages of 30 and 45 who typically drink wine, beer or spirits regularly above these medical guidelines. These recreational drinkers do not necessarily have an obvious problem of susceptibility to alcohol but they need to be aware of the risks to their health and wellbeing of regular, excessive consumption.

The very idea of a measurable “unit” of alcohol (about half a standard 175ml glass of red wine) may itself be unfamiliar to the public. Drinkaware has addressed the issue of public recognition, with mnemonics and slogans in pubs and by encouraging two “dry” days each week.

This is sound advice. Mr Selbie should not allow academics’ purist objections to the drinks industry to override his responsibility to work with it to develop a pragmatic approach to public education. Consumption of alcohol, which is pleasurable to many, is not in the same category as the use of tobacco products, which are intrinsically harmful and addictive. A successful drinks industry has social responsibilities. PHE is right to harness them in this initiative.

I strongly suspect that The Times is more in tune with public opinion than the people who signed the letter. The great thing about this story is that the 'public health' people just don't get it. It's obvious that PHE are not going to back down and there is no pressure from the public for them to do so. And yet they keep doubling down.

In their letter, they write...

“That PHE is seemingly not worried about such activity or believes that it is not vulnerable to industry influence is troubling” 

Do they really think that they are going to win over PHE by implying that they are gullible fools who are 'vulnerable to industry influence'? The egos of these people are the size of a planet. The more they scream and stamp their feet, the more obvious it becomes to PHE and the public that they are fanatics.

Normal people do not think that alcohol is as bad as tobacco. Normal people do not think that working with an industry-funded charity is unacceptable (or, indeed, working with industry - most people work for an industry). These beliefs are only considered normal in the 'public health' bubble. Expose them to sunlight and people are going to laugh at them.


I have sent a e-mail to Duncan Selbie in his darkest hour...


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