The anti alcohol movement

Written by Steve Bury

I believe it was 2014 when CAMRA recognised that it had to actively challenge the anti- alcohol movement who were and still are giving out false information to anyone who will listen. It is unfortunate that the press regularly publish articles based on this miss information and the adage “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story” could never be more true than in this case.

CAMRA supports drinking in pubs which are a controlled environment and proven to be good for your health and wellbeing. CAMRA also challenges any incorrect information the Temperance lobby circulates and at this years members weekend our guest speaker was Paul Chase of CPL Training. When I first saw the agenda I like many others asked; training about what but Paul’s presentation soon clarified the situation and gave those present an insight into how the Anti Alcohol Movement works why it started and exposed the myths they put forward.

Paul was good enough to send out his slides and I will use them to explain the problem.

Historical rise of temperance

The movement began in the UK in the 1830’s at first in Ireland moving to Scotland and then England. This was religiously driven “clerical temperance” believed making alcohol available to the masses was tantamount to placing temptation in the path of sinners. The more the temptation the greater the sum of sinning! The movement had gained so much power by the start of the First World War that their leverage brought in strict licensing hours and reduction in beer strength. The reduction in beer strength was brought about by large increases in excise duty and the temperance movement still complained that the barley used for brewing should be made into food. Beer was part of the British working man and woman’s diet and the fear of causing a further drop in moral stopped the introduction of prohibition.

In America the government were less enlightened and they moved to full prohibition between 1920 to 1929. This we now know led to an upsurge in organised crime and racketeering plus an abundance of very dangerous bootleg spirits which could turn the drinkers blind amongst other problems.

In modern times the anti- alcohol policy is driven by healthism an ideology encompassing the health of the nation and uses public health as an instrument for social control and lifestyle regulation. In relation to alcohol there is a well thought out strategy to effect policy change. The end game is to turn alcohol production and sale into a sunset industry like tobacco; not actual legal prohibition, but a kind of cultural rejection which will see the sector decline and wither.

Puritanism. “The haunting fear that someone somewhere, may be happy”. H.L.Mencken
Patient: “Doctor will I live longer if I give up alcohol and sex?”
Doctor: ” No but it will seem like it”.

How the anti-alcohol “Health Lobby” operate

The temperance movement has spread its tentacles through a number of organisations.

  • Institute for Alcohol Studies (IAS) – largely the story of one man – Derek Rutherford
  • Alcohol Concern (AC)
  • Alcohol Research UK (ARUK) temperance legacy funded
  • Alcohol Focus Scotland (funded by the Scottish Government)
  • Local bodies balance North East as an example

All of these are members of:

  • The Alcohol Health Alliance AHA (UK wide umbrella group)
  • Eurocare – formed to lobby the EU
  • The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA a global umbrella group that influences and advises the World Health Organisation.

The GAPA and AHA have a strategy based on a “whole population” approach seeking to reduce:

  • Availability; by reducing the number of outlets selling alcohol as it is “the availability of alcohol that makes people drink it”.
  • Affordability; by making alcohol more expensive through duty rises and minimum pricing.
  • Advertising of alcohol products; banning alcohol sports sponsorship and all advertising.
  • The aim of the lobby is to reduce the alcohol consumption of the whole nation.

The conspiracy theory

Alcohol, tobacco and sugar are produced by addiction industries which drive global ill health and the larger most successful companies deliberately engineer addiction. To control this minimum unit pricing and control of ingredients by legislation if a voluntary reduction cannot be achieved. To do this you must keep the populace alarmed by continual scare tactics even if they are imaginary.

The anti-alcohol lobby try to generate a moral panic by creating myths and factoids based on junk science whilst constantly moving the goalposts.

Common myths

Alcohol is cheaper than ever before:-

Not True despite examples of cheap alcohol in supermarkets, the price of alcohol overall has increased by 25% since 1980 in real terms, when measured against the RPI. Although wages have increased over this period those on benefits, pensions, minimum wage or student grants which have not exceeded inflation will not find alcohol cheaper or more affordable.

Minimum Pricing per unit of 50 pence would significantly reduce alcohol misuse in the UK:-

The effect of minimum pricing is not known as it has never been tried. The University of Sheffield predicts on a mathematical model that a 50p minimum price per unit would mean a binge drinker would consume 0.8 units of alcohol less per week a third of a pint of beer over seven days. Or they would spend an additional £1.14 per week to keep to the same level of consumption.

Problem solved then.

There are 1.2million Alcohol related Hospital admissions per year:-

Nobody actually knows how many hospital admissions are alcohol related! If you believe that someone stands at the door of every hospital in the land recording all the alcohol related admissions then you have been misled. The figures quoted are all estimated using a modelling technique developed by the World Health Organisation over 15 years ago based on international, not UK research. This technique produces an estimate known as the “Alcohol Attributable Fraction”. The Department of Health has abandoned this methodology and now estimates that around 333,000 hospital admissions each year are alcohol related. Against 1.2 million this seems a large discrepancy but another element is the “frequent flyers” a name used for people alcohol dependant who get regularly admitted when you take them into account the alcohol related admissions figure drops to 75,000.

We have the worst rates of liver disease in the world:-

The truth is we are not even the worst in Europe, England is well below the European average. Of the 27 countries in Europe 16 have worse rates of liver disease than us and in 2014/15 there was a small reduction in cases.

Underage drinking, teenage drinking and Binge drinking are getting worse:-

All the above are getting better!

For 11-15 year olds those who have tried alcohol fell from 59% in 2000 to 39% in 2013.

Binge drinking is down from 41% of men to 34% and for women from 34% to 26%. 16-24 year olds binge drinking is down 31% for males and females by 34% between 2005 and 2012.

We are drinking more and more each year:-

We have been drinking less since 2004 and our alcohol consumption rate is falling at the fastest rate for more than 60 years and is now at the lowest level this century. The UK consumed an average of 9.4 litres of alcohol per adult in 2013, down 19% from 2004 and 10% lower than in 2000. The average in the EU is 10.4 litres. The percentage of frequent drinkers has also dropped between 2005 and 2012 with men moving from 22% to 14% and women from 34% to 26%. Which for some unknown reason has led to the guidelines being reviewed downwards!

There has been a huge increase in alcohol related crime:-

There is no generally agreed definition of “alcohol related crime”. A crime is alcohol related if the victim thinks the perpetrator was under the influence at the time of the offence.

If you remove volume crime, eg. mobile phone and handbag theftss from licensed premises (there is even doubt that these crimes are alcohol related the criminals may well not be drinking and are basically using a place where people congregate to make their thefts easier).

The truth is that alcohol related crime is down by 32% since 2004 and 47 % since 1997.

Alcohol misuse costs the tax payer £21 billion a year:-

This figure is derived from a study done in 2003 for the UK Cabinet Office and is not £21 billion but 19.2 billion (but who cares about the odd billion here and there)a year cost of drink – related harm. A large part of this sum is an economic cost and certainly does not accrue to the tax payer.

The Cabinet Office study calculates five separate costs some are borne by the tax payer but others are paid by individuals as follows:-

  • Lost productivity: 5.5 billion (paid by employers)
  • Healthcare: 1.7 billion (by the taxpayer)
  • Crime/fire: 5.1 billion (private costs), 2.2 billion (by the taxpayer)
  • Miscellaneous: 4.7 billion (intangible costs)
  • Total: 19.2 billion (so the government have lost £1.8billion somewhere and can’t explain £4.7 billion)

So the government are paying 3.9 billion which is less than 20%.


Chris Snowdon did a study in 2015 “Alcohol and the Public Purse” which showed the following costs:-

  • Crime: 1,625,925,986
  • Health: 1,953,531,876
  • Welfare: 289,199,874
  • Total: 3,868,657,736

Alcohol related revenue (excise duty + VAT on the excise duty): 10,411,200,000
Alcohol related costs as shown above: 3,868,657,736

Net gain to the Public Purse: 6,542,542,264

The drinker needs to be heard in the public arena!

CAMRA although specifically promoting real ale is this countries voice of the ordinary drinker and will oppose any misinformation promoted by the anti-alcohol lobby or the drinks industry. CAMRA will also produce counter statistics to challenge the scare stories. Whether CAMRA members or not all drinkers must oppose the “nanny state” and fight for more personal choice. As I hope we all recognise moderate consumption of alcohol is part of a healthy lifestyle.

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