Tag Archives: Alcohol

This week’s media picks worth a read

We found these articles worth reading, you might too depending on your interests.

FT: Criticism of energy groups overshadows good news in [wind] sector

The changing view of the “big six” energy companies is symbolized by a recent Mirror front page headline that showed Centrica CEO, Sam Laidlaw as the “blackout blackmailer”. Commons energy select committee chairman, Tim Yeo, cannot remember energy being such a high-profile issue in his 30 years as MP. The CMA referral and the Tories proposed block on onshore wind farms have exacerbated fear in the sector. But Siemens’ Yorkshire wind turbine factory and the investment push by Dong, Statoil, Statkraft and Vattenfall show that “the big six are not the only game in town.”

FT:Labour vows to spread wealth away from London

In a little-noticed speech Ed Miliband confirmed Labour’s move away from the old regional development agencies as a means of generating growth in the English regions. Instead, the new local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) would be retained and the focus would be on cities, city-regions and partnerships of councils.

The Guardian:Government contractors begin to realise public trust is an end in itself
Jim Bligh, head of public services at the CBI, writes that the private sector is starting to recognise that building public trust is a worthy end in itself. The risks of not being transparent – of hiding behind bureaucracy or commercial confidentiality – far outweigh the risks of the alternative. Transparency ultimately shines a light on good performance and bad performance alike, which means that it can greatly improve the competitive dynamic. The losers will be companies and public bodies which simply aren’t performing well enough.

The New Yorker: Heartbleed: an example of ungovernability

You may not yet have heard of Heartbleed, the latest cyber-threat, but you are probably already a victim of it. The New Yorker reports on why one respected cryptography expert describes the threat of Heartbleed as 11 on a scale of one to ten. Was it on the Government’s cyber-crime radar? And even if it was, what can one Government do to tackle what is a global threat?

The Independent: Over here for the beer

A bevy of brewers is increasingly flocking to London from overseas. Discover why the English beer regulations make the capital the place to be for German and US brewers thirsty for innovation

The Independent: Erdogan: from model strongman to tinpot dictator

The Turkish premier’s decline into authoritarianism has dangerous geopolitical consequences.

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Bashing the booze again

Sorry about this. I hadn’t meant to return so quickly to the alcohol debate, but the “news” published today by the British Medical Journal that alcohol advertisers are targeting 15-16 year olds deserves a response.

The nub of the story is that in reviewing alcohol industry marketing documents submitted to the House of Commons Health Select Committee, some health academics, led by Professor Gerard Hastings of Stirling University’s Institute for Social Marketing (the Health Committee’s special adviser) “discovered” that alcohol producers were conducting market research on 15 and 16 year olds. The researchers say that this was used to “guide campaign development and deployment” for alcohol marketing among young people. That is certainly the spin picked up by the media. The Guardian lapped it up: Alcohol industry is ‘targeting young people’, it declared.

But is that what the alcohol industry is really doing? The Portman Group code on Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks seeks to ensure that drinks are marketed in a socially-responsible way and to an adult audience only. Not only is the industry committed not to targeting marketing, advertising, branding or promotions at under-18s, but in advertising it is also committed not to using images of people who are or who appear to be under 25.

The Portman Group has been highly effective in ensuring that the way drinks are named, packaged and promoted is responsible. In 2008 (its most recent report) it randomly sampled 485 alcohol drinks packages and assessed them against the code. Of these, they had reservations against the packaging of 32 products. Producers of most of these drinks immediately volunteered to change their marketing. In just ten cases the producer opted to defend their marketing to the Independent Complaints Panel, and of these just two products were ultimately found in breach of the Code.

So if the industry is so responsible and assiduous in its adherence to the Portman Group Code, why does it conduct market research among 15 and 16 year olds? Well, if you are committed NOT to marketing drinks to the under-18s, it seems only sensible and responsible that you find out what it is that appeals to them so that you can avoid doing it! In order to design advertising and marketing for over-18s, it has to know what would also appeal to under-18s and avoid it. Frankly, I would be more worried if they weren’t doing market research among under-18s.

But this common sense point is lost on the puritanical researchers and the hypocritical media, because it doesn’t serve their purpose of making the alcohol industry the whipping boy for the year. Expect to see a lot more booze bashing as the year unfolds.

Hitting the bottle

Alcohol is an issue on which it seems that Labour, Conservative, Liberals and the Scottish Nationalists all agree, to an extent. They have been recently out-machoing each other, proposing evermore draconian regulations. The latest, today, from the Government involve compulsory ID checks for those looking about or under 18 and a ban on irresponsible promotions. The Tories want local authorities to fine pubs, clubs and off-licences which are the source of late-night problems and to put up the tax on “problem drinks”. The Nats want to introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol and to ban under-21s from buying alcohol in shops and off-licenses, but still allow them to drink in pubs.

Some of these ideas are fine. Most alcohol retailers are already signed up to a voluntary code on selling and promoting alcohol, and they have either a challenge 21 or challenge 25 ID scheme, which is tougher than the challenge 18 ID scheme that the Government is proposing. They also already ban irresponsible promotions – such as all-you-can-drink for a flat fee, and other promotions encouraging fast or excessive drinking in bars and clubs. What the Government is proposing is to bring the recalcitrant traders into line. Fair enough.

The Tory plans seem to go a step further. But do they? Pubs and clubs which are a source of nuisance can already lose their licences, so why propose fining them when local authorities can close them down? Bars and clubs should be warned, given the chance to turn things round, and if they don’t, then their licences should be taken away. Local authorities already have this power, so wouldn’t it be better to encourage them to use it, rather than just give them yet another power?

And the tax on “problem drinks” is just nonsense. This is one of those policies that looks tough but does nothing. Only about 1% of alcohol sales involves alcopops, and there’s more booze in a large glass of wine or a pint of Stella. Those who load up on booze tend not to do it through alcopos, which are a relatively expensive way to get drunk, but on beer (men) and wine (women).

The Nats’ proposals for a 50p minimum price per unit of alcohol may raise prices at the margins for a handful of drinks bought in supermarkets, but not in pubs and bars, where politicians are focusing their fire. And the revenues from these higher prices will go straight into supermarket tills. Ker-ching! While the notion that a 20-year-old can be married, working (maybe serving in the armed forces), living in his or her own home, voting, paying taxes and yet is not allowed to buy a bottle of wine to have with dinner is plain barmy. Not a vote winner, Mr Salmond.

But in the end, these initiatives aren’t about tackling the very real issue of problem drinking, but about pandering to the chatterati who knock back the sauvignon and merlot and shake their heads over the youth and the oiks who get pissed at the weekend. But it isn’t the youth who are the biggest problem (or victims) of alcohol abuse. Statistically, it’s the middle-aged and post-middle-aged private drinkers, who sit at home drinking on their own. It is long-term drinking that causes health harm, not the odd binge, and these proposed measures do nothing to target this most vulnerable group. That’s because such proposals aren’t designed to tackle the fundamental problems which underly problem drinking, but instead aim to satisfy the desire to find someone to blame (in this case the alcohol industry) and to give it a bit of a kicking.

If legislators want to blame someone, they should consider the following:

  1. The individuals themselves, who (like me and my friends) consciously decide whether and how much to drink. No-one forces us to: we do it because we want to, and sometimes we drink too much. But it is OUR choice.
  2. Parents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and friends, teachers, colleagues and bosses: those we look to for guidance and support
  3. Local authorities and police, who don’t enforce the plethora of laws and regulations already in force to stop the sale of alcohol to minors and to crack down on problem establishments.
  4. And how about decades of Government policy and social and economic inequality that leads to such stark differences in consumption between groups of people and region? Relatively poorer northern regions have more per capita alcohol consumption than affluent southern regions; working class men in manual jobs drink more than middle-class white collar men (though only just, now, since wine has caught on), and single people, especially in middle-age or older, who tend to drink at home alone.

Economics, education, opportunity and even unhappiness are all factors when it comes to drinking. If politicians really want to sort out alcohol problems then they should start with inequality and, literally, look closer to home.