Sunday 21 June 2015

Relative Harms

Day 112, and happy sober Sunday morning to you all!

As a special weekend treat (you have to get your kicks somewhere!) I've been re-reading Professor Nutt's 2010 study into the relative harms of various drugs.

I remember when this study first came out. I stuck my fingers in my ears and chanted 'la la la la'. I did not want to hear it.

Funnily enough, the government did exactly the same thing.

They'd already sacked Professor Nutt from his government advisory role for suggesting that cannabis be declassified from a Class B drug to a Class C drug, and they absolutely did not want to know that, according to this study, alcohol should be a Class A drug, along with heroin and crack cocaine.

Nutt's study examines nine categories of harm that drugs can do to the individual "from death to damage to mental functioning and loss of relationships," and seven types of harm to others.

The most harmful drugs to the individual were heroin, crack and methamphetamine (with alcohol not far behind), but alcohol was far and away the most harmful to society.

When you combine the impact of individual and societal harms, then alcohol still comes out top with a score of 72 out of a maximum of 100.

(Next up is heroin, way behind at 55,  54 for crack, 33 crystal meth, 27 cocaine, 26 tobacco, and 23 cannabis.)

Prof Nutt states that "In Britain today, alcohol is a leading cause of death in men between the ages of sixteen and fifty, so it is therefore the most harmful drug there is in terms of life expectancy, family disruption and road traffic accidents."

As a result, Nutt believes that far more effort has to be put into reducing harm caused by alcohol. To start, taxation of alcohol is "completely inappropriate." Strong cider is, for example, taxed at a fifth of the rate of wine.

Another area highlighted for urgent action is the low cost and promotion of alcohol such as Bacardi Breezers to young people.

Don Shenker, CEO of Alcohol Concern, says that "successive governments have mistakenly focused attention on illicit drugs, whereas the pervading harms from alcohol should have been given a far higher priority. Drug misusers are still ten times more likely to receive support for their addiction than alcohol misusers, costing the taxpayer billions in repeat hospital admissions and alcohol related crime."

Shenker recommends making alcohol less affordable, and investing in prevention and treatment services to deal with rising alcohol dependency.

According to Nutt's scale, alcohol is 3 times as harmful as tobacco, and yet we (now) accept that nicotine should be heavily taxed, regulated and restricted.

Cigarettes are being forcibly de-branded in several countries and huge amounts of money are spent trying to persuade young people not to start smoking.

But the British government have even ruled out minimum pricing on alcohol, let alone more drastic measures.

Drinking hours have been increased rather than decreased. Our children are still raised to believe that drinking alcohol is normal, almost to the point of obligatory, and alcohol is aggressively marketed, even to teenagers.

To my shame, I remember sitting next to the global marketing director of Diageo at an industry dinner. We discussed the success of the alcopop campaign that my Agency had produced, and I agreed wholeheartedly that it would be 'madness' for the government to interfere in the 'free market' of alcohol sales.

The truth is that putting regular drinkers (like the British cabinet) in charge of alcohol regulation is like putting a toddler in charge of the cookie jar. You can only see the madness once you're no longer a willing participant in it.

And that's why things aren't going to change anytime soon.

Have a great day everyone!

Love SM


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  2. I removed my last comment, SM , pressed publish before reading! Great post as always - and now I see the madness, it makes me angry! Not that I blame the government because because i first picked up an alcoholic drink, but because they made it easy. And easier, and easier.

  3. Another great post SM. The problem in my eyes is this; If most of the people in government are users of the drug (alcohol) then they are not going to be so quick to except the facts and introduce tougher legislation. Nutt had it spot on in my opinion. He called a spade a spade, it made a lot of people uncomfortable and he had to go. Supression of the truth because the truth was too bitter a pill to swallow. I hope you are having a great, sober, hangover free weekend. x

  4. Alcohol is so ingrained in our day to day lives - the daily fix is our 'get our of jail (life)' card...

  5. Thank you SM a great post. It's also very disturbing and raises all sorts of questions about what we should be telling out children about alcohol. Given that my children have also seen Mummy with a glass of wine in her hand every evening for the last few years it also raises the question about how honest I need to be with them!