Tuesday, 14 April 2020

An angry Liberal Democrat

A Lib Dem who rejoices under the name James Belchamber is very angry about the evidence I produced last week showing that minimum pricing in Scotland has been a bit of a flop. You may recall that I found official statistics showing that the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions rose in Scotland in the first year of minimum pricing, and Scotland fared no better than England and Wales with regards to alcohol-related mortality in 2018.

In a scurrilous, bug-eyed rant, Belchamber accuses the IEA of 'fake news', lying and the 'dissemination of disinformation' for bringing these facts to the public's attention.

In a “Briefing Paper” published last week the headline “fact” was that, since Scotland did not see a drop in alcohol-related deaths over what England experienced, the policy as a whole was a failure (as they “warned”). Of course there is no mention that regularly consuming alcohol kills you over decades (a fact well-known now even to people outside of the medical industry), and that this is a disingenuous and fallacious argument.

They know this. Nobody with an interest in the subject could not know this. So we can only reason that they are out to deceive.

For Belchamber, it is just common sense that minimum pricing wouldn't have any effect in the first year. S'obvious, innit?

Unfortunately for him and his argument, that has never been the view of the Scottish government nor of the Sheffield University team who made some very specific predictions about what would happen in the first year. If he had bothered to read the very first line of the abstract of my report, he would have seen what those predictions were:

Advocates of minimum pricing predicted that it would have an almost immediate impact in Scotland, with modelling forecasting 58 fewer deaths and 1,299 fewer hospital admissions in the first year.

There are plenty of reasons to expect a successful anti-alcohol policy to deliver health benefits in the first year. Many alcohol-related deaths are from acute causes and most of the chronic diseases can be prevented if people suddenly change their behaviour. That's why the Sheffield modellers forecast a large impact in the first twelve months.

And it's why the actual outcomes in the first year are highly relevant in any assessment of the policy.

Belchamber says that 'if the facts change, I will change my mind' and ends his blog post with the pious injunction that...

As Liberals, we should seek truth.

I have left a comment on his blog explaining that he has made a howler. He will no doubt be embarrassed to have based a scathing blog post around a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts, but as a truth-seeking Liberal I'm sure he will acknowledge this and rethink his support of a policy that will make the poor poorer.

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