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« Film of the day | Main | A tale of two ... »

Alcohol and tobacco: two peas in a pod

Earlier this week I had a meeting with a management consultancy whose clients include a well known drinks company. They wanted to know what lessons the drinks industry could learn from the war on tobacco. I was happy to help.

By coincidence, this week's Spectator includes a letter on the subject of alcohol and tobacco. It is written by Rupert Fast, a long-standing supporter of Forest who attends most if not all of our London-based events and is never less than quietly supportive of Forest and the cause in general.

Rupert writes:

Sir: Everything Rod Liddle says about how the war against smoking was always going to lead to similar ones against other legitimate pleasures is true. The smoking ban was not the thin end of the wedge, though. The rot set in with crude warnings on tobacco products and the banning of cigarette advertising on television. The political crusade accelerated when traditional socialism became discredited. Getting nowhere attacking Big Business in general, the opponents of global capitalism turned their attention to businesses that could be deemed ‘unethical’.

The drinks industry has been asleep during all this, under the false illusion that smoking and drinking are completely separate issues. The last hope is that all industries smeared as ‘bad’ (fast food, confectionary, bottled water and the like) engage with genuine liberals and libertarians and challenge head on those who despise them and wish them to go bankrupt.

I'm not sure that I agree that the war on tobacco, and now alcohol, is entirely motivated by a hatred of big business - although there is an element of that among some campaigners.

What I do agree on is the suggestion that the drinks industry is wrong to believe that smoking and drinking are separate issues. It is clear, however, that the drinks industry wants to distance itself as much as possible from tobacco to the extent that some people are prepared to claim that the impact of "passive drinking" is tiny compared with the (alleged) impact of passive smoking.

I can understand, tactically, why the drinks industry wants to do this. I would argue however that they risk playing into the hands of the "health" lobby which wants to divide and rule, picking off one industry after another.

In a perfect world the food, drink and tobacco industries would stick together. So, too, responsible smokers and drinkers, not to mention every liberal-minded person in the country. Unfortunately the real world is rather different.

Reader Comments (16)

The other letter to The Spectator on the subject is from a doctor who says: 'I doubt if many of your readers drink wine at less than £4 a bottle anyway'. Oh, so that's all right then. If I thought the magazine would print it I would write and tell it that I have read The Spectator since the 1960s and that,as my pensions come from the State and from journalism, £4 is the most I pay for a bottle of wine.

March 27, 2009 at 14:13 | Unregistered CommenterNorman

It is clear, however, that the drinks industry wants to distance itself as much as possible from tobacco to the extent that some people are prepared to claim that the impact of "passive drinking" is tiny compared with the (alleged) impact of passive smoking.

It's the case that if they don't all hang together they'll all hang separately.

And there seem to be two sorts of "passive drinking". One form is comprised of the occasional secondary effects of alcohol - noise, violence, car crashes, and so on. The other one, much more analogous to passive smoking, was set out by Michael McFadden in the BMJ's Rapid Responses. McFadden pointed out that alcohol is a Class A carcinogen, and also that it evaporates into the air. He estimated how much alcohol was released from a tumbler of spirits overnight.It was rather a lot.

It's just that nobody can see it. But if people are now believed to be dropping dead from inhaling secondhand tobacco smoke, how many more must be keeling over from the effects of alcohol vapour? Think of the children! Ban drinking in pubs!

It intrigues me that the health Nazis have not adopted McFadden's argument, and started calculating the relative risks of passive drinking of this sort, and produced heaps of virtual dead bartenders to prove it. Perhaps they think it would stretch credulity too far. Instead they've fixed upon some of the consequences of over-intoxication.

And when are people going to notice that everything the Nazis want to ban is always something people enjoy? When are people going to see that the Nazis are puritans who hate all forms of pleasure, and wish to foist upon everyone their self-denying values?

The "pleasure industries" should all unite in one front. Alcohol, tobacco, fast food, sex, drugs, gambling, tourism, fashion, etc. Because the Nazis are going to attack them separately rather than together, picking them off one by one.

March 27, 2009 at 14:14 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

If its not blatently obvious to the drinks industry by now of the disastrous effects the smoking ban had on drink sales, its not a consultant they need but a head transplant or a career change asap.
They obviously thought they were a step above the dirty filthy smokers and if they could disassociate themselves from that lot, the green people and Ash nazis etc would approve of their nice clean looking drink.
Too late now though for passification of the jackboots because they never give up once the big salaried jobs of hand picked consultants, scienties and budding MP's are all on the payroll.
Another industry has now been born that are in direct competition with the drink and tobacco industry.
So unless the drink industry stand shoulder to shoulder with the tobacco industry right now and take on the antis together, its not lessons they will want to be learning but where to go with their P45's.

March 27, 2009 at 14:56 | Unregistered Commenterann

I read this earlier today: 'One of the time tested methods of controlling populations is the divide and rule card'. United we stand. Divided we fall. Drinkers and smokers must stand together. Plus the obese.

March 27, 2009 at 15:13 | Unregistered Commenterchas

"...some people are prepared to claim that the impact of "passive drinking" is tiny compared with the (alleged) impact of passive smoking."

I can here it now, 'there is no safe level of passive drinking'

March 27, 2009 at 23:19 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

Guys have you seen this, a Tory in Parliament. We are making progress.

"Tory MP Laurence Robertson, who introduced the debate, gave an overview of the issues affecting the industry – including the role of the pubcos.....

On the smoking ban, he suggested pubs had not seen many extra customers arrive since the ban and separate smoking areas “could have been so much better”.

March 28, 2009 at 10:22 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Nice one, Dave, but what do you think about a letter received from a pro-choice Tory MP to a contituent which says there is no chance of a Con Govt ever bringing in an ammendment to the smoking ban.

March 28, 2009 at 11:44 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

If you lokk at the historical images of he prohibitionists e.g Carrie Nation or Lucy paige Gaston you notice immediately that they wear very black plain clothing.
In effect they are Puritans.
If you look at the 21st century equivalents you see the same austere hard faces.
They are always doomed to failure though because it is a very narrows mindset.
However they damage they cause takes years to rectify.
In fact the organised crime they created in the US is still thriving today.
The drinks industry have to wake up to the fact that "crusaders" like this exhibit a religeous zeal and are relentless in their mis guided goals.
They will not stop untill everybody is "forced"to be like them.
Very strange people indeed.
My message to the drinks industry is fight back or perish.

March 28, 2009 at 13:44 | Unregistered CommenterMcgraw

Hi Pat I hope you are well. Jeremy Hunt the Shadow to Gerry Sutcliffe at the Conservatives has given me permission to quote from a series of letters to me. He said ".... the Conservatives have no plans to repeal the smoking ban but I am well aware of the impact that the ban has had on the British pub industry."

The the bottom line is that in my opinion we have won the argument that the smoking ban has caused closure s of pubs, far greater than was anticipated. Kenneth Clarke in Wales 21/3/09 also said the smoking ban was the main problem and referred to the "health puritans," but added it would not be overturned.

I am sure we heard at the IPPR the reference to "health zealots" at the Department Of Health.

The recession will be long and deep and the 4,000 pubs may turn into 8,000 or more. The DoH maybe told to shut up and the government of the day in the next year or two maybe forced out of desparation to amend it. Also I am aware of some fresh initiatives that could really swing the balance.

We have won the argument as I said, lets keep the pressure up on all parties, keep it in the public eye. I feel the dam will break.

March 28, 2009 at 13:45 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

A quick coda if I may. I have been in touch with some of the Chairman of some of the alcohol trade bodies and mentioned my first focus is smoking, get the conflicts of interest out of the way. The have been most welcoming.

We could all help out here.

March 28, 2009 at 13:49 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Hi Dave. Any victory is a positive one. I do hope you are right about that dam :)

March 28, 2009 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

They were two peas in a pod, but I think they gave the 'two fingers' to their loyal customers back when the smoking ban was being lobbied.

Nice to know where we stand, isn't it? We kept all those publicans and their families in business for years and then they gave us the cold shoulder.

Most of them (not all) believed the propaganda and the lies, just like they're getting now.

If a trade can't back it's own customers then I'm sorry but I can't support that trade.

I'll stand up for what's happening to the trade now if they remember who we are. Only then will I fight with them.

I'm sick of hearing about 'axe the tax' campaigns from the publicans - that won't make any difference. They need to attract their ex-customers if they want to survive by lobbying for an amendment (not repeal) of the ban.

March 29, 2009 at 0:04 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Amend the ban and I will start to drink in pubs again along with the others millions of smokers who fell they are practically barred.
It is not the price because you go down the pub to socialise.
As an ex semi proffesional musician I can tell you a large percentage of the grass roots of the British music industry were young bands who usually cut their teeth on the pub scene.
It's damaged that as well.
But then again these sort of people very often ban bands from civic halls and theatres do they not.
They think it's the "devils music" or something like that.
Puritans tchhh !,don't you just luv em.

March 29, 2009 at 10:27 | Unregistered CommenterMcgraw

I'm a committed smoker and have no intention of stopping! However, I'm also a recovering alcoholic and was forced to stop drinking before it killed me!
I do not, though, condemn those who enjoy a nightly tipple or who drink themselves into oblivion at the weekends to relieve the stresses of modern day life.
What I would point out, though, is that in many parts of Britain, alcoholism kills far many more people than smoking and costs the NHS so much more too! The Government choose, however, to turn a blind eye to this and simply focusses on occasions when drink makes people violent. Many of those same people could well be violent without ever touching a drink!
Don't they employ double standards here!
My smoking has never caused me a medical problem in my entire life and if people don't like it, could they not simply try opening their windows? Geoff Brown, "The Local Bore, you Can't Ignore!' Newcastle upon Tyne.

April 3, 2009 at 11:09 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Brown

Having worked in Her Majesty's Prisons for 10 years and been around them for nearly 30 years, I have seen the after-effects of alcohol abuse aplenty.
I have never yet seen any 'victim' of after-effects of over-indulgence in legitimate tobacco products, no broken limbs or murdered spouses or abused children.

April 4, 2009 at 22:12 | Unregistered Commenterp

I see those awfully helpful people at NICE (the organisation that says, "No you can't have those drugs to save or prolong your life because they cost too much" has now issued some helpful suggestions on how to cut alcohol related illness and the costs associated with it, Most of the suggestions involve making it more expensive and cutting down the number of outlets for alcohol. Sound familiar? Come on guys, lets go the whole hog. WHY DON'T WE BAN ALCOHOL FROM PUBS?

June 2, 2010 at 7:17 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Dutt

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