New booze guidelines: We'd rather you didn't enjoy yourselves

Project Fear is back, and it wants your plonk

New alcohol advice published today reiterates that the recommended maximum intake weekly for male adults should fall from 21 to 14 units - barely enough to fill a bowl with electric soup*.

“To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis,” the UK government guidelines state (PDF).

The guidelines attracted widespread criticism after they were published in January.

The opinion of the UK’s Chief Health Jobsworth (official title: “Chief Medical Officer”) Dame Sally Davies is that there is “no safe level” of drinking.

Professor Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at Cambridge University, pointed out that the “no safe level” message contradicted the working group’s guiding principle that the public needed to be able to make an “informed choice”, not get scared into obedience. Eating a bacon sandwich, or watching an hour of TV, posed more long-term health risks than moderate alcohol consumption, he wrote. Graham Stringer MP pointed out the zero-alcohol advice would have a “perverse effect” - most people would simply ignore it.

For a Puritan, however, the thrill comes from denying another’s pleasure, and the Puritanism and the “no safe level” recommendation remains, albeit in different wording, and in specific relation to cancer:

The expert group was also clear that there are a number of serious diseases, including certain cancers, which can occur even when drinking within the weekly guideline. Whilst they judge the risks to be low, this means there is no level of regular drinking that can be considered as completely safe in relation to some cancers.

However the following passage modulates a little:

This level of risk is comparable to those posed by other everyday activities that people understand are not completely safe, yet still undertake.

Alcohol industry trade body the Portman Group responded to the new guidelines by saying "it is regrettable that the guidelines still include a reference to the Guidelines Development Group's view that there is no safe level of drinking... Placed alongside low risk guidelines it will render the CMOs' advice confusing and contradictory for consumers."

Following the EU referendum the media remarked, with some dismay, how people “don’t trust experts”. But perhaps it depends on how self-interested, or "expert", the experts are perceived to be. The Times in May reported that “four key figures behind [the new recommendations] were closely associated with the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), a lobby group financed by the temperance movement.”

IAF banner

This wasn't news to Register readers - we wrote four years ago that the IAS is funded by something called the Alliance House Foundation. This was created in Manchester in 1852, and by 1853 rejoiced in the name “The United Kingdom Alliance to Procure the Total and Immediate Legislative Suppression of the Traffic in All Intoxicating Liquors”. It subsequently spawned better-known temperance groups. In turn, the largest funder of the AHF is the European Union. In 2008 it raised just £70 in donations from members of the public.

Perhaps one unexpected "Brexit Bonus" might be a diminution in killjoy lifestyle regulation. Which would be ironic, really. For years we were promised "continental drinking", the boozy Europeans offering a more liberal drinking culture than the uptight British. ®


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