Saturday, April 25, 2009

A cold beer and a smoke, still under attack

Those who have been paying any attention to “public health” issues of late have been predicting an assault on alcohol similar to the offensive against smoking. The telltale signs of the looming war are everywhere. And, the tactics to be used in the pending “war on alcohol” will, apparently, be the same as those used in the “war on smoking”.

From the land “down under” comes the claim by public health proponents that the alcohol industry is “behaving like big tobacco companies and using underhanded and secret strategies to protect their profits”. And, researchers from Curtin University in Perth, Australia say they have the documents to prove it.

Professor Mike Daube of the public health faculty at Curtin says the documents list strategies to deflect attention from the type of legislation most likely to damage their bottom line. Says Daube: "The measures they oppose most strongly are tax increases, controls in advertising and sponsorship, health warnings, tough policing - especially on drink driving - and good, independent mass media programs on alcohol."

But, ask yourself: wouldn’t the maker of any legal product object to having their product singled out for a special “sin” tax or other intervention meant to curb consumption of that product?

The intent of (corporate) advertising is to make people aware of the product being sold; to influence people so that they will consume some particular product/service, or though brand identification to garner a larger share of the market for that product or service. And, advertising is legal, just as the sale of alcohol is legal.

So, why should it be surprising that the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages would object to having their marketing strategies curtailed? What’s really wrong with sponsorship of sporting or cultural events by brewers or distillers? Doesn’t the community as a whole also benefit from such sponsorship?

As long as the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages remains legal, why shouldn’t the manufacturers of beer or spirits be afforded the same rights and privileges as other industries?

The prohibitionists claim that the booze industry is unlike any other “normal” business; they sell a product which causes death and destruction and a host of societal ills. And, even worse they’ll tell you, they encourage children to experiment with alcohol and perhaps become regular consumers of these products as they grow older.

So, in the name of public health these products, and those who use them, must be painted as something evil; something less than “normal.” For their own good, and for the sake of the children.

These are the same tactics employed by over-zealous public health advocates in their efforts to destroy the tobacco industry and eradicate smokers. It’s a social marketing concept called de-normalization.

Social Marketing (also known as propaganda) is used to manipulate people’s thinking so that they will cease allegedly “bad” behaviour and/or engage in behaviour more acceptable to society as a whole. It’s a simple concept really; just emphasize the negative aspects of a product to create the public perception that the product itself, and those who choose to use it, is inherently bad.

Some men beat their wives after drinking therefore all men who drink are spousal abusers. Some young people may drink to excess and be inclined to violence or anti-social behaviour, therefore all young people who drink are thugs and brigands. And, according to the prohibitionists, simply taking away the demon rum which presumably drives their actions will solve the problem. More bullshit and bafflegab. It is a predilection towards violence, spousal abuse and alcohol abuse which is the problem.

There are already laws on the books to control sales to minors, drunk driving, etc. And, contrary to the claims of Mike Daube, I know of no booze company which opposes these or other reasonable public policies. But, the key word is reasonable.

Ignored by the prohibitionists and their propaganda is the fact that millions of consumers drink beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages responsibly and without adverse consequences to society or themselves.

The prohibitionists tend to deny the adverse social and economic consequences of their efforts to curtail consumption and impose a de facto form of prohibition. Their war on smokers, for example, has led to increased smuggling, decreased tax revenue and a readily available (cheap) supply of tobacco products with which young people can experiment. Unintended, but foreseeable consequences.

Tobacco growers have been forced out of business and manufacturing jobs moved offshore. And, many more jobs are affected indirectly by smoking bans and excessive taxation; the hospitality business, convenience stores, etc. Acceptable collateral damage?

The alcoholic beverages industry has a right to make valid arguments in their defense and discuss the issues among themselves. The have a right to participate in any dialogue intended to diminish their legitimacy. And, because they oppose measures designed to damage (or destroy) their perfectly lawful activities, they are being neither underhanded nor manipulative. They’re simply taking care of business.

I suspect I’m not alone when I say that I find it disconcerting that most of today’s public health issues appear to be centered on personal lifestyle choices which were once attacked primarily on moral grounds: drinking, smoking, gambling, gluttony, etc. But, the moralizing is no longer confined to the pulpit.

The high priests of public health have replaced the fire and brimstone preachers from the past. Prohibition has been resurrected as a new cult bearing the banner of public health. But, the socio-economic consequences will be the same as they were when the cult was led by the old time religious zealots.

At the end of the day, it’s just the same old bullshit and bafflegab.

No comments: