An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The importance of cheap grog

A dumpy foreign pub that welcomes smokers.

I started this nonsense what seems like many moons ago because I disagreed with what was and remains the consensus within the beer blogs and beer writing in general that I had been consuming. Namely that mainstream beers were of a poor quality and the people that consumed them were undiscerning mugs and most significantly that the prices of such products were way too cheap and needed to be increased to save the health of the nation, reduce anti social behaviour, save pubs or simply because those proposing such measures didn’t like the products they hoped would be affected. I thus decided to start my own account of buying a cheap box of lager, enjoying it more than I in all honesty expected to do, and not behaving in any manner troublesome to you other than I wasn’t sat in a pub whilst I drank my lager.

Fellow beer blogger Mudge has a theme to his blog, and arguably articulates his views in more adult and less puerile manner than myself, and that theme is clearly the smoking ban. I don’t wish to alter the theme of this blog nor intrude on another’s but I occasionally find myself in agreement, occasionally in disagreement, with dear old Mudge.

I agree that the anti alcohol lobby that clearly wish to introduce prohibition by stealth are using the techniques and models of anti smoking health campaigners.

My view is that drinking, unlike smoking, is a healthy and normal activity. Smoking causes cancer. I know of no serious commentator that would argue with that fact. Whilst it remains legal, it is damaging to the health of the nation. The techniques used to reduce and eventually abolish smoking appear to be one of advertising it’s dangers, banning the advertising of the product, taxing the product at a level to discourage use and restricting the ability to smoke in public places. By denormalising smoking and making it a troublesome activity to pursue, an activity no one really in their right mind would choose to do, the intention is to effectively eliminate the habit. A goal it is impossible to argue isn’t an admirable goal. If you were to invent smoking today it would be an illegal product.

If we take a hypothetical example of a factory producing arsenic sweets for children and the sudden medical discovery that arsenic was poison, you could make no serious argument for not banning arsenic sweets. The job losses and economic cost of closing the factory is not a good enough reason to accept the selling of a known poison. The metaphor being that closed pubs is an acceptable cost for the denormalisation of smoking. Lament the loss of pubs by all means, lament many becoming cheap restaurants, but the cost of eliminating smoking is an acceptable one.

Freedom of choice and liberty is often used as an argument but it is only recently that our society has become fragmented enough to allow this argument. Man has always been a tribal species and lived within the boundaries of the tribe, whether that is the rules of religion, law or social acceptability. Human kind and the individual within has never been entirely free, and there have always been behaviours frowned upon. One cannot make the argument that society is becoming less free because smoking is frowned upon when behaviours previously unacceptable like homosexuality, having children out of wedlock and/or without a partner or even wearing trainers in a posh restaurant becomes acceptable. Society is no more or less free; it is just that the boundaries of acceptability alter over time. A free society of the libertarian is a dangerous and worrying society lacking the conventions that make our daily inter dependant existence acceptable. If someone is free to blow smoke in my face you might also accept they are free to defecate upon my shoes. I love my trendy trainers as much as you love your sandals.

Alcohol minimum pricing is one of the features of denormalising alcohol and is akin to the high tax placed on smoking. No one really believes 50p per unit will have any discernable effect on consumption or behaviour. However it begins the model placed on smoking and allows for future increases. Those increases are likely to be an accelerator above inflation and gradually the price of a can of lager will creep up and up. It’s immediate effect negligible, its effect 20 years down the line one of very expensive booze and declining numbers of boozers.

In my observation most smokers wish to quit because of the high price of tobacco and know how much a money they would have in their pocket each month if they quit. A minimum price of alcohol is the start of a process that we can observe today if we look at the price of a packet of cigarettes. It is not a habit anyone in their right mind would start. If we look at the difficulties of smoking, standing out in the rain at your place of work or when out for a drink you have to question why anyone would do it.

The denormalisation of drinking isn’t in my view a theoretical conspiracy, but an observable fact. In most places of work it is unacceptable to go for a lunchtime pint. Most people would not tell their boss they went out for a drink in the evening lest they be thought of negatively as a boozer. Most of the media coverage regarding alcohol is by and large negative and highlights the many social and individual costs of drinking. This is not to say those costs do not exist but appear out of proportion to their occurrence. The denormalisation of drinking is well underway and to support minimum pricing is to support one of its foundations, a strategy taken from the denormalisation of smoking.

You may believe there is no serious and immediate threat to your drinking habits. In a society where the majority of people like a tipple of some form you would be correct. Twenty years from now, when the denormalisation of alcohol has made far more progress, when a can of lager is as relatively expensive as a packet of cigarettes, when a minority of people drink. Will you be able to say then that there is no serious and immediate threat to your drinking habits?


Curmudgeon said...

Praise indeed - I'll buy you a pint of ice-cold fizzy Carlsberg next time I see you ;-)

But the whole point about the process is that you start on the group most disliked and derided in society (smokers, Jews) and then, having established the success of the principle, move on from there.

And "denormalisation" is all about moving the boundaries of what is considered "normal". You might find many people who consider themselves strongly "pro-drink" but would never personally have a lunchtime pint at work. So they themselves have succumbed to the process.

Anonymous said...

CL your witty blog has an interesting serious article today. Cigarette smoking, when inhaled into the lungs is as generally bad as you say. If you go to an actuary at the age of 20 a smoker then they will assume for pension and life assurance purposes you will live 7 years less than a non smoker. Cigars and pipes uninhaled are much less of a risk. 86% of lung cancer and 90% emphysema patients are smokers.

CL, the demonisation of drinkers is only beginning. Here is the BBC from February 2009 "Drink a day 'raises cancer risk'...One drink may be one too many, cancer research scientists believe
A glass of wine each evening is enough to increase your risk of developing cancer, women are being warned."

This is reported in Australia. "Forget safe drinking levels – any amount of alcohol could give you cancer. Alcoholic drinks and ethanol are carcinogenic to humans and there’s no evidence there’s a safe consumption threshold to avoid cancer….” The misery continues when on alcohol and heart disease, “The previously reported role of alcohol in reducing heart disease risk in light-to- moderate drinkers appears to have been overestimated,”

There is clear epidemiological evidence that drinking alcohol increases your lifespan by 4-5 years when consumed in moderation. Up to 40 units a week, see my Danish study.

Be prepared for junk science and frankly lies from the anti drinking lobby. Ever since Sir George Godber in 1975 on passive smoking said: "..foster an atmosphere where it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them, especially their family and infants or young children who would be exposed involuntarily to the smoke in the air." We have had ever since a diet of biased and fixed studies ever since and the perversion of science which undermines democracy.

Cooking Lager the lies have only just begun for alcohol.

Spinko said...

Best get stockpiling then. I reckon you can fit 7000 crates in a large garage.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Good advice, spinko. Because the future will see a food blogger comparing booze with arsenic sweets for children and saying that it's perfectly OK to attack alcohol ... but wrong to demonise burgers. ;)

That day is nearer than you think, too.

Cooking Lager said...

Dick, my view is that society would be better off without smoking. It serves no purpose and kills its users.

Drinking is social oil and in moderate quantities beneficial to health.

Burgers are no worse for you than steak. Neither will harm you but you wouldn't want to live off either.

Hence the difficulty in equating smoking to boozing to eating. The metaphor doesn't fit.

Dave Thackeray said...

Cookie - you inspired me to such a degree I felt compelled to record this ode to the CAMCL while on a recent trip to Rotterdam.


Dick Puddlecote said...

Cookie, there are those who are already vehemently arguing that alcohol has no social value whatsoever and that even a drop is dangerous to your health and able to kill. Did you catch Panorama last night?

They are already saying, repeatedly, that there is 'no safe level of alcohol consumption'. This will be the mantra for the next decade and, sadly, people will stupidly believe it. Just as they did for tobacco (it was a game changer).

Smoking and boozing have been linked since before you and I were born. I really can't understand why you think the prohibitionists care if you think there is a difference.

Dislike smoking if you like, but please recognise that booze will be in the same position in around 20 years. And as I said, that's when some burger blogger will make the same arguments you are making right now ... probably via holograph. ;)

Curmudgeon said...

A lot of smokers do actually derive enjoyment from smoking - they don't all inwardly want to give up. And you could say the same about plenty of other activities that contribute nothing to society and which carry an elevated risk, and yet people enjoy doing, such as mountaineering, leisure motorcycling and some kinds of sexual practices. Indeed there are plenty of curtain-twitchers living in National Parks who would love to see motorcycling banned.

Ghost Drinker said...

"If you were to invent smoking today it would be an illegal product" - I think your exactly right, but I think the same could also be said for alcohol. That argument can always be linked to what some say about marijuana. I've heard people say "it's only illegal in this country because the government has no way to regulate and get taxes from it, not because it's damaging". Could the same be said for smoking and alcohol - are they only legal because the government makes so much cash off them??

Curmudgeon said...

I would say the main reason they are legal is that they had become well established in society before anyone ever thought of "prohibited substances". However, obviously at present, setting aside any libertarian arguments, the loss of revenue to organised crime and the impossibility of enforcing prohibition are strong reasons for not banning them.

If the government did legalise marijuana then of course they could get tax revenue from its sale. However, it wouldn't be too long before the Guardian was complaining about the obscene profits make by Spliffco and demanding it be more strictly regulated ;-)

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

It's just a money issue. A governmental spending issue.

The list of things to eradicate is directly linked to the things which cost the government the most money.

They don't plot like crazy to stop swearing, or bad manners, or many other 'blights on society' because by and large they don't directly impact upon the public purse.

Smoking makes people ill. Often seriously ill. Seriously ill people cost vast amounts of money to fix. The same is true of drinkers, but historically marginally less so in monetary terms. That's partly why smoking was first to get the boot, but also because it was marginally easier to demonize.

Food, as hinted here, will not be in the firing line after alcohol has gone. Poor diets are are less costly than a certain other necessary and often pleasurable pursuit.


STD's, abortions, unsustainable population growth etc...

It's a seriously expensive pursuit.

I've been saying for a long time that when the government have finally denormalized smoking and booze - sex is next.

Fishter said...

I thought it had been shown that smokers, by dying younger of acute diseases are less of a cost to the NHS than those that live on to suffer with dementia, alzheimers etc...

Mr A said...

They are. I don't have the study to hand but I read recently that smokers cost the NHS less than the obese and the "healthy BMI/non smoker" in comparative terms because as well as funding the NHS through their taxes (as do we all), they also pay enormous amounts of tobacco duty (4 x what "tobacco related disease" costs, even using their own definitions of what this actually is) AND they tend to also die earlier - remember most people's medical expenses are incurred in the last few years of life.

There may indeed be arguments against smoking but "cost to the taxpayer" certainly isn't one of them.