It was recently announced that the recommended guidelines for ‘safe’ drinking are to be reviewed – a move which has been welcomed by both the usually opposing health and industry groups. With it though came a Daily Mail article shrieking about the guidelines being another example of the nanny state, and a barrage of other mis-truths about alcohol and society.
Personally I feel the guidelines are important, but equally so is how the Government and health groups use them. There may be a fine line between providing information and patronising people if they choose not to use it. If people don’t want to reflect on their drinking they won’t, so there’s no point forcing it. But I don’t accept that by simply providing a guideline on ‘safe’ consumption or offering people advice is any way ‘lecturing’ in itself. This is where journalists at times misconstrue things which in turn foster the very problems they hype about.
Take the Mail article. Firstly it refers to the guidelines as “limits” – not an uncommon mistake, but semantics are important here. ‘Limits’ suggests a legal implication (like a speed limit), and that we don’t have a choice. The guidelines are there to help us make an informed decision about our own drinking – should we choose to. I’m not denying there aren’t challenges in conveying units and guidelines, but to turn making information available on an important health matter into an argument for excessive state intervention seems entirely baseless.
The article further misuses information to argue a political case for less nanny-statism; for instance saying that “only 6 per cent of cancer deaths in the UK every year can be attributed to alcohol”, whilst ignoring many other higher levels of alcohol implicated deaths such as liver or hypertensive disease. In typical Daily Mail fashion, the article points the finger of blame at the unemployed; “Most people who have jobs and family duties do not over-indulge”. The stats actually show that it is those in senior professional roles that most often drink above the guidelines, and most people with alcohol dependence are still in fact in work.
Towards the end, the article concludes “Instead of lecturing the great majority with dubious drinking limits, the authorities need to find ways of reforming those binge-drinkers.” It offers no suggestion as to how the Government should actually ‘reform’ these ‘binge drinkers’. Instead it suggests “individuals should take charge of their own destinies”. Funnily enough, that’s exactly what I thought I was doing when I used to pride myself on getting wasted. I wasn’t aware of the guidelines back then, but if I was, perhaps I would have reflected on my drinking a little more before it became quite so problematic.