Monday, December 1, 2008

SHS, alcohol and other public health hazards

“The global burden of disease for alcohol is approaching that of tobacco, a framework convention on alcohol would help strengthen the hand of countries in setting policies that protect human health.”
Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP
Executive Director
APHA (The American Public Health Alliance)

Alcohol and tobacco prohibitionists have been with us for well over a hundred years; going by names such as the Anti-Tobacco League, the Temperance Union, etc. They had some mild success in 1920 with the introduction of prohibition in the US. However, the unintended consequences of prohibition proved so disastrous it was repealed only 13 years later in 1933.

The reason for the lack of any real success by these crusaders was that they sought to control the personal conduct of individuals whose behaviour did not meet with their approval. Their interventions were justifiably seen as an intrusion on personal liberty.

The new prohibitionists decided to try a new strategy. Starting with tobacco, they would argue that smoking was not a private matter, but a public health hazard which had to be controlled like any other. And, with gross distortions of science and deceptive health claims, they managed to convince the public, politicians and the press that smokers were killing or otherwise harming everyone around them. And, even worse, they were costing the public treasury billions of dollars.

And, with the apparent success of the anti-smoker crusade, the heath scare professionals are now turning their attention to other “unhealthy” behaviour. The most recent targets are the obese/overweight and drinkers. And, the new prohibitionists are hoping the same tactics used by anti-smoker crusaders will be just as effective in the coming wars on obesity and booze.

The obese and overweight have already come under attack. CSPI claims that: “Concrete action is necessary to help reduce the $6 billion to $10 billion economic toll and 25,000 to 47,000 premature deaths attributable to diet and inactivity-related disease annually in Canada.”

And now, it’s time to go after drinkers and alcohol.

An article on the APHA web site, dated 27 November, 2007 calls for the World Health Organization (WHO) to adopt and implement a binding international treaty modeled after the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

But, the new prohibitionists in Britain have not been idle while waiting for WHO to provide them with the weapons and ammunition they need to combat “Britain’s booze culture”.

From a November 26 Sunday Times article, we learn that the British Department of Health claims 10 ten million adults in England regularly drink more than government recommended levels and cost the National Health Service (NHS) more than £2.7 billion a year due to alcohol abuse. In addition, alcohol misuse costs £25 billion a year in policing and time lost from work. And, according to the Department of Health, there are 811,000 alcohol-related admissions to hospital annually.

In an earlier Times article, Vernon Coaker, a Home Office minister, said: “It is almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk. We want to change that attitude. The consequences of binge drinking are disorder on our streets. It is not acceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on in some of the ways people are carrying on.”

So, in the public good, the government is ready to impose restrictions on the beer and liquor industry, the pub trade and individuals, to curb the undesirable behaviour of some drinkers.

Britain’s new “national alcohol strategy” will borrow heavily from the tactics used by anti-smoker crusaders around the world, modified only slightly to apply to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

For example, cigarette-style health warnings will be placed on cans, bottles of beer and wine. And, raising prices through increased sin taxes will also be on the table, as will increasing the legal age to buy alcohol. Happy hours, drinking games and free drinks for women are to be banned in pubs and clubs.

Another “epidemic”; another health hazard which must be controlled. Little thought will be given to the potential adverse social or economic consequences. Pubs in Britain have closed by the thousands, due in no small measure to smoking bans implemented across the country. Adding restrictions on alcohol will make the situation even more severe.

Like smoking, they will start with “reasonable” controls, then steadily tighten the screws until the objectionable conduct is choked off.

The new prohibitionists have launched their anti-alcohol campaign in Britain. A new framework convention on alcohol control will soon see similar constraints initiated worldwide. But, like tobacco, it will not be the product that winds up being controlled; it will be the people who choose to use it.

Alcohol; tobacco; gluttony; the attacks on personal autonomy will continue. The war on smokers was simply the beginning of the journey down a slippery slope.

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