There has been much discussion recently in the trade re the upcoming budget and how it’s going to affect us. Yes, as a country we’re broke, and we’ve nurses, teachers, fire-fighters and the Guards to pay and yes we accept that alcohol will have to be hit – we’re happy to take our fair share of the hit… well we’re not happy, happy is probably the wrong word, but we’re willing to take our share of the pain.

ImageBut I am fed up with it being disguised as a health thing; I’ve had enough of the anti-alcohol lobby claiming any excise hike as a victory. It’s nothing of the sort, it’s just blow to independent wine importers and retailers. Ok, obviously I work in the trade so I would say that, wouldn’t I? However – and hold on to your hats here – I also like a drink. Let me repeat that for any anti-alcohol campaigners out there: I. LIKE. A. DRINK. I rarely touch the spirits any more, I might have an odd cocktail but I like a beer or a glass or two of wine and, as you’re probably well aware by now, I’m also partial to a bit of cider. I thought nobody would put their head above the parapet and say it so I could hardly believe my eyes, in a good way, when Jennifer O’Connell writing in the Sunday Business Post last January (she now has a regular column in the Irish Times on a Wednesday) wrote “By all accounts, regular moderate drinking is the new alcoholism.” She went on to say “So imagine my relief when my unorthodox – I would say civilised – approach to the January thing got the official green light from the British Royal College of Physicians special adviser on alcohol, Sir Ian Gilmore, last week… Gilmore’s intervention was exactly the kind of mature and sensible advice that always seems to be absent from the ongoing debate in this country about our alcohol problem.”

I am fed up to the back teeth of hearing about alcohol being responsible for all the bad out there. It’s like the misuse of that quote “money is the root of all evil”. Just as the full quote is “the love of money is the root of all evil” it’s not alcohol that is the root of social problems in this country, it’s the abuse of alcohol. But what’s the answer? I don’t think prohibition worked. I don’t think a price hike will stop an alcoholic (if that’s the solution we wouldn’t have a drug problem anywhere) and I don’t think teenagers like to be preached at, does anyone? And there is absolutely no point in increasing excise (as a measure to combat alcohol abuse) if there is not also an introduction of a minimum price on alcohol. If you increase excise and at the same time you continue to allow supermarkets to sell below cost then all that will result in is job losses in the independent sector.

The anti-alcohol lobby is on a crusade, and anyone who is on a crusade behaves with all the religious fervour that a crusade entails, and it’s very hard to debate against this without sounding like you want all children to move straight from the breast to the whiskey bottle, or that you love nothing more than stepping over puking students on a Friday evening, or seeing A & E full to the brim on any given night with out-of-control drunks. Please, nobody wants that. We keep hearing about all these problems from the anti-alcohol brigade, and you know what, it could be easy to solve; what if we were to legalise and encourage the use of marijuana instead? If alcohol abusers switched to old fashioned weed, went home and rolled a joint or baked hash brownies to eat with their friends then, instead of violent drunks beating each other up and giving frontline staff a hard time, we’d have peace-loving stoners to deal with. Would the anti-alcohol campaigners be happy? Well maybe, but I seriously doubt it. So please stop citing these as the problems. They are not the problems, they are the symptoms (which is by no means trying to lessen their impact nor the what those amazing people have to deal with. I imagine more than a few nurses go home after a really shitty night and have glass of wine though). However could we maybe, while dealing with the symptoms, try and find out what the real problem is?

What is it the anti-alcohol campaigners really want? I’m not even sure they all have the same aim. Those in the medical profession give us facts and figures about cancers and liver damage etc. Ok, I can take that, I’m an adult, give me the facts and I’ll make up my mind. The non-medical campaigners talk about under-age drinking as if it were the worst thing ever. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see my teenagers coming home in a state and would obviously prefer if they didn’t touch a drop until they were 21, but I think the majority of us had a drink before we should have and didn’t turn into roaring alcoholics. Or even non-roaring alcoholics. And here’s the thing, the vast majority of teenagers experiment with alcohol. The vast majority of adults are not alcoholics. But the minority who bang the drum against alcohol seem to have a far louder voice than the rest of us.

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Sugar: Pure, white and deadly?

Anyone watch the recent RTE show “What’s Ireland Eating?” In it Philip Boucher-Hayes quoted a staggering fact: 1 in 4 children is overweight or obese and 2 in 3 adults. That’s a quarter of our children and two thirds of the rest of us, how does that compare with alcohol abuse? If you care about the nation’s health surely that’s something that needs to be tackled, talk about a future strain on the health service, a time-bomb ticking away. Anti-alcohol campaigners want advertising of the same to be banned from all sporting events, but how would they feel about it being substituted by some sugar -filled product instead?  Did you know that the body metabolises sugar and alcohol in much the same way? That a sugar addiction in your younger years can set you up perfectly to be an alcoholic later in life?

Those lovely people in the Revenue (many of whom enjoy a glass of wine of an evening, hello there) swoop in to our account at the end of the month and take the excise due to them from the previous one, and the vat on that excise too. It is not a case of us filing a vat return and then paying a bit later if things are tight right then. And this excise (and the vat on it) is taken out whether we have been paid for the wine we sold or not. So a rise in excise means the elastic holding us together is stretched even further and the price to you, the consumer will go up, obviously. Unless of course you buy it in a supermarket where it can be sold at a loss or with very little profit as the shortfall will be made up on the price of the salt-filled, calorie fuelled, ready-meal you might buy to go with it. But hey, the government are seen to be tackling at least one health problem, so that’s alright then.

The facts and figures on the drinks industry are there for all to see. You can see how much it contributes to the exchequer; you can see how many people it employs, directly and indirectly. These figures are often used to show how powerful the industry is. I am not going to dispute that, any large employer at the moment in particular wields some force. However as a trade we are often criticised for not being open enough about the dangers of alcohol. We are laughed at for the ‘Drink Aware’ campaigns, sure isn’t Drink Aware funded by the trade, how can you trust it? But hang on, we too have children – do you honestly think we want to encourage them to binge drink? We too have relatives who have suffered and continue to suffer from alcoholism; we are not advocating abuse of alcohol. It’s in our interest to encourage respect and moderation. Do the car manufacturers fund speeding awareness campaigns? Do the tobacco companies fund campaigns on the dangers of smoking? How about the racing industry, when was the last time you saw an advertising campaign highlighting the gambling problem? Fizzy drinks makers don’t tell children they should only be drinking the sugary concoctions a few times a week maximum. What do you want us to do? The drinks industry funds a well run drinking awareness campaign and it’s not good enough. It will never be good enough. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Every culture that I can think of has a way of letting off steam through some way or another. Why do some of us abuse ours? I don’t think I can answer that here, now, but have a look at some of the links below and see what you think yourself. Rant over (for the time being).

Links:

Drink Aware: http://www.drinkaware.ie/

The link between sugar consumption in childhood and alcohol abuse later: http://agriculturesociety.com/healthy-living/alcohol-and-the-sugar-connection/

http://www.recoverytoday.org/blog/?p=357

Sugary drinks and alcohol – does mixing a high-energy, sugary, caffeine filled drink with alcohol make you far more prone to violence than if you were drinking alcohol on its own?:

http://www.independent.ie/national-news/red-bull-alcohol-and-drugs-can-spark-violence-56088.html

and: http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8532784

If you don’t drink to get drunk (and don’t get drunk every time you drink) if you can have 2 or 3 days a week off the booze then the chances are you’re not an alcoholic: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9001868/Abstaining-from-alcohol-for-two-days-is-a-sign-of-not-having-a-drink-problem-says-adviser.html

Sugar, an addictive drug: http://drhyman.com/blog/2011/02/04/stopping-addiction-to-sugar-willpower-or-genetics/

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763407000589

How much sugar’s in that? http://www.sugarstacks.com/

The RTE “What’s Ireland Eating” programme, scary. http://www.rte.ie/tv/programmes/whats_ireland_eating.html

Jennifer O’Connell’s Sunday Business Post article “Off Message”(behind a paywall): http://www.businesspost.ie/#!search/jennifer%20o’connell%20wine

Great report, long but worth reading http://www.scotlandfutureforum.org/assets/files/report.pdf

“There should therefore be a more honest approach to alcohol and drug policy, with the primacy of effort concentrating on prevention… Young people must be given more credible and truthful information about alcohol and drugs to enable them to make better choices….

The Home Office have identified certain predictive factors for illicit drug abuse. These include:

• parental discipline

• family cohesion

• parental monitoring

• peer drug use

• drug availability

• genetic profile

• self esteem

• hedonistic attitudes

• rate of risk to protective factors”

I’ve touched on some of the above in a previous post here. I strongly feel we need to prevent it happening rather than give out about the results, which means being honest with and educating our children, more expensive and time consuming perhaps.

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