Sunday, July 22, 2012

Drinking alcohol? That’s not normal!

Attempts by anti-drinking killjoys to ‘denormalise’ an everyday activity are getting ever more patronising

Yet more health recommendations have been issued by the self-appointed guardians of ‘public health’, this time in an attempt to stave off Britain’s supposedly toxic drinking culture. The new proposals hope to change people’s attitudes by ‘denormalising’ alcohol consumption, but they really just end up treating adults like children.

The killjoys at the UK Faculty of Public Health are suggesting that the government compels alcohol producers to label their products with ‘graphic’ warnings of the dangers linked to alcohol, such as cancer and violence. Meanwhile, NHS Cumbria has put forward proposals to force retailers to create separate tills for the sale of alcohol.

These proposals are a clear attempt to denormalise the widely enjoyed consumption of alcohol by ostracising drinkers. Through the segregation of alcohol from food, great irritation will be caused to the public, as well as making alcohol some kind of unique and separate product. This replicates the practice of forcing supermarkets to sell tobacco at a specific till. It is an attempt to stop alcohol being seen as a usual component of people’s general consumption habits, with the implication that drinking is a dirty habit.

The message would be: ‘Go queue for your booze over there, drunkard, this queue’s for us decent folk buying Vitamin Water and fruit.’ No longer would people be able to select which bottle of red wine to purchase alongside their other food stuffs, or pick up some Cobra beers for the curry they’re also buying, or include a case of Budweiser when planning a barbecue. Unless, of course, they wish to queue up twice. The implication is palpable: such drinking habits aren’t normal.

Including a graphic warning on alcohol bottles and cans is another means to denormalise alcohol, especially the warnings about alcohol causing violence. It is true that some people can get a bit aggressive after a drink, but the vast majority don’t. The attempt to label bottles of beer in such a way is to portray people that drink as prone to throwing their fists around. Thankfully, most people do like a drink and usually refrain from punch-ups, so the proposed demonisation campaign will be seen for the nonsense it is.

These proposals, and the anti-drinking campaign in general, take a rather dismal view of the public. By trying to separate alcohol purchases from food and soft drinks, supporters claim they are trying to stop drinkers ‘buying it on impulse’ and succumbing to temptation. This is a patronising view of people as impulsive children who are likely to see a bottle of wine and want it without thinking. It suggests consumers are as blissfully ignorant as Adam in the Garden of Eden, destined to be led astray by the snake-like ease of purchasing the forbidden fruit of alcohol. Luckily, the modern-day temperance movement, in the form of ‘public health’, will help him resist these temptations.

The plan to label alcohol bottles with health warnings also suggests that people don’t already know the potential risks associated with drinking. It’s common to hear people, after a few nights of heavy drinking, make references to their liver taking a hit, or that it ‘needs to recover’. Although people may not know the exact science behind alcohol and liver disease, they know that alcohol can cause you liver problems, but they just chose to drink anyway. Yet the guardians of public health can’t seem to grasp this basic fact that people know alcohol can cause health issues; they would rather take away the risks and enjoy themselves.

Through the guise of public health, these attempts at changing people’s alcohol consumption habits are an invasion of the private sphere. The consumption, or level of consumption, of a legal product should be no business of the state. People should be trusted to decide for themselves how much alcohol to consume. State legislation, outside of outright prohibition, cannot change people’s drinking habits, nor should it attempt to. The ‘correct’ amount for each person to drink is specific to each person. An impersonal army of bureaucrats can’t gauge how much is too much for every individual. If someone actually is drinking excessively, family and friends are best suited to identify this – and it’s a lot easier for them to help, too. Someone drinking themselves to death is more likely to listen to the appeals of those close to them, rather than some faceless public-health group or a hectoring health minister.

It is not surprising that the means by which the fun-free anti-drinking campaigners attempt to achieve their goals is patronising and treats people like children. That’s because the end to which they strive toward is equally patronising. Attempting to regulate people’s alcohol consumption is to treat adults like children. The government and the anti-drink campaigners view themselves in the same way as a parent, with the adult population being the not-quite-knowledgeable-enough teenager who needs decisions on their alcohol intake imposed by the wiser state-approved authority figure. Thanks, but we’re quite capable of making those judgements for ourselves.


Junk food companies and lack of playgrounds behind obesity crisis, Australian academic says

There is no such thing as "junk" food.  A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potato.  If that is bad we are all in the poo.  And the best evidence is that demand levels of fat, salt and sugar are harmless.  Too little salt can in fact kill you (Google hyponatremia if you doubt it)

FAT people are not to blame for being overweight, a top Melbourne academic claims.

Dr Samantha Thomas, who spoke at the annual Castan Centre for Human Rights Law Conference in Melbourne, said the war on obesity was failing because society put too much emphasis on personal responsibility.

"Obesity rates are still increasing because we put all the responsibility on the individual, but are completely reluctant to tackle the corporations that are part of the cause - the junk food companies, the soft drink companies, even the town planners who design new suburbs with no backyards or playgrounds," Dr Thomas said.

Dr Thomas, a senior research fellow at the Monash University School of Marketing, said more should be done to prevent obesity, rather than simply telling people to lose weight.

"It is easy to say 'I do the right thing, why don't they?', but for some people, for a variety of reasons, it is very hard to make the right decisions. We really need to create a healthy environment to help people do that," she said.

Dr Thomas said the anti-obesity fight should be similar to the war on smoking, with big tobacco companies blamed rather than individuals labelled weak or lazy.

"With the anti-smoking movement, we realised that tobacco was being heavily marketed at adolescents and we were disgusted," she said. "Junk food is heavily marketed at children and adolescents but, instead of trying to stop that, we just put all the responsibility on parents."

Dr Thomas said more than 60 per cent of the population was overweight or obese, so the situation affected more people than many would admit.

But YMCA Victoria spokesman Stephen Bendle said while environment did play a role in health, people needed to learn to make the right choices themselves.

"The YMCA encourages people to take responsibility for their weight and, just as importantly, for their overall health and wellbeing," Mr Bendle said.


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