Tuesday, 31 May 2011

McWilliams promotes cider & Obama in world’s biggest Guinness ad: the economics of alcohol

What are the real economics of alcohol?  Are the industry’s claims of a decline in alcohol consumption really down to a change in methodology?  As they say in the joke about alcohol research and the body, the results are staggering.

David Poley, chief executive of UK & Ireland drinks industry body the Portman Group, said last week "It is surprising that hospital admissions have apparently doubled over a period in which alcohol consumption has significantly declined”.  Something isn’t adding up.  Downing a pint of Guinness was so important to Barrack Obama that he risked a helicopter ride in dangerous winds to get to the Moneygall pub in time.  He was of course following in the well trodden footsteps of every successful American president of recent times looking for a second term – a booze up with the Paddys is still apparently worth a lot of votes, as Irish-American journalist Harry Browne explains in Counterpunch.

David McWilliams doing the sums
David McWilliams on the other hand has earned his fame as one of ‘the peoples' economists’, correctly predicting the wrecking of the economy to the benefit of those he calls the ‘insiders’.  And without the luxury of an insider’s salary, some alcohol industry cash must have made economic sense.  As the Irish Times puts it, ‘With all this doom and gloom, at times David McWilliams would turn you to drink. So it’s a neat fit that cider brand Bulmer’s has turned to the pundit to front its new advertising commercial”.  

But are public figures wise to promote booze of all things to earn a wider public?  The alcohol industry already spends an enormous 68 million per year in Ireland and 950 million in the UK on advertising, with a further undisclosed sum on sponsorships at many university and sporting events.  Ireland alone is meanwhile saddled with an annual alcohol related debt of 3.7 billion.  Nevertheless, the industry claims to be having a hard time, what with the recession and all, but the chief evidence of a downturn in alcohol consumption comes from the apparently reliable UK Office of National Statistics (ONS), presenting the census findings that alcohol consumption in the UK is down by a few per cent in the last two years.  We know this not least because these figures are being proudly boasted by the industry itself.  As Simon Litherland, Managing Director of spirits firm Diageo GB, said:
"These figures are encouraging news for England. They confirm that alcohol misuse continues to decline and show clear progress in awareness of units and drinking guidelines. The statistics reveal that weekly alcohol consumption is down, the number of people who drink at all is down, the number of people drinking on five or more days a week is down, binge drinking is falling and alcohol related deaths are also down."
Mr. Litherland’s laudable delight at his falling sales is echoed by British Beer and Publican’s Association (BBPA) Chief Executive Brigid Simmonds who comments that “These figures will confound many pundits, as yet again they confirm that as a nation, we are not drinking more. Those who suggest otherwise need to focus on the hard facts”. And David Poley chief executive of the Portman group comes to the rescue of poor misguided Alcohol Concern Wales whose survey inconveniently shows that older people are drinking more at home. "Overall trends shows a positive and continuing decline in the rates of excessive drinking” Poley says. “Trying to get people to adopt safer behaviour does not justify misrepresenting statistics in this way. We would urge Alcohol Concern Cymru to use alcohol statistics responsibly”. Opportunities to be sanctimonious must be rare in the alcohol industry so Poley can be forgiven his moment of weakness. But is he right?

If alcohol consumption is down, why are profits still so good?

'In 2010 Diageo earned 1.63 billion pounds in the year ended June 30, compared with £1.61 billion a year earlier, while sales excluding excise taxes rose 5% to £9.78 billion.  Results in Europe were mixed, with good sales growth in Britain offset by weaker results in Ireland and Spain …Diageo ramped up marketing spending by around 14% to achieve … 2% organic volume growth over the year’. 
These figures don’t support the claimed fall in sales.  Are people buying alcohol and keeping it in the cupboard?  Or is the change in drinking patterns really a reflection of a change in methodology?  The method by which the ONS data was collected changed in 2007, and found its way into the 2009 General Lifestyle Survey (formerly General Household Survey) which coincided with the recorded lowering of alcohol use in the UK.  The devil is in the detail as they say, and the paper which explains the new methodology needs careful examination.  There are essentially three things wrong.  They don’t know how much alcohol is sold, they went to the industry for advice about it and their new recording system underestimates ABV and volume.  Strangely they signal all three problems in the document which explains the new methodology.

We don’t know how much alcohol is being sold

“Ideally” the researchers say “judgements about the most appropriate alcohol by volume (ABV) to assign to a particular type of drink would be based on sales data showing the average strength of that drink.  Detailed data are not, however, available, so a judgement must be made”. [My emphasis]
Ponder that for a moment.  Nobody, not even the ONS, knows how much booze is sold, or its strength.  This is echoed in the University of Huddersfield report which tried to set up a database on alcohol sales and drew a blank.  ‘Despite substantial efforts towards multi-partnership working, data collection and intelligence sharing on Alcohol Supply Points is fragmented’. 

This is not the fault of the BBPS, but of the new giants in the alcohol sales chain, the supermarkets.  Tesco, the second largest retailer in the world, doesn’t mention alcohol once in its annual report, and as the Irish Times reported, Ireland’s chief retailer ‘Dunnes Stores does not disclose any financial information for its 116 grocery and textiles stores in the Republic as they form an unlimited entity’.  But the outlets continue to promote alcohol at every opportunity in stores, on TV and in advertising, and as we all know, as a two-for-one or special offer loss-leader to get us into the shop.  As Alcohol Concern reported in March 2011 ‘abundant alcohol displays were normalising alcohol as an everyday commodity, reducing recognition of it as a potentially harmful drug’.

So who do the ONS turn to for advice with this problem of lack of data?  Astoundingly, they went to the vested-interests within the alcohol industry itself:  ‘...guidance is provided by the BBPA’ and in particular ‘the BBPA Statistical Handbook 2007: a compilation of drinks industry statistics’. And in several places the report quotes a ‘BBPA personal communication’.  Fox, hen-house anyone?   As Claire Harkins wrote in the BMJ:

“The final [alcohol] strategy ignored government commissioned testimony from a group of 17 independent experts who called for restrictions on alcohol pricing and availability. Instead the Portman Group was the only “alcohol misuse” group cited in the final report. Alex Stevens, at the European Institute of Social Services at the University of Kent, said that the strategy adopted the “language and ideas of the alcohol industry . . . This seems a clear example where external pressure on government by a powerful group has influenced the use of evidence in policy”.
Is this now a case of influence over the hardest currency of all, official statistics?

The new ‘methodology’ uses the BBPA supplied ABV figures multiplied by how much people record that they are drinking.  This sounds sensible, but is questionable on two counts.  Firstly the figures for ABV supplied by the BBPS state that ‘for beers an ABV of 4.5% will be assumed  But as Gargle Nation has reported before, sales of super strength beers of 5% and more are now common, particularly in off licence and supermarket sales of super lagers which are now rising in the UK and have already over- taken pub sales in Ireland. 

And for wine, which now makes up 40% of the drinking for women in particular, the ONS use a surprisingly low average ABV of 12.5%.  The ONS themselves say that the big selling new-world wines are between 14 or 14.5 %.  A survey of the shelves in Dunnes this week revealed not surprisingly that eight out of the ten  wines on promotion were at 13.5% by volume as described on the labels.   Further, this may not tell us the true ABV.  The San Fransisco Chronicle conducted a survey in April,  sending samples of 19 wines to an independent wine lab in for ethanol testing.  Only one wine ABV was accurate, with 18 showing an alcohol content of  between 1% to 2% above that claimed on the label. 

This isn’t an isolated case. The Robert Mondavi institute has found a consistent 9% rise in sugar levels in wine overall over the past twenty years. ‘Since sugar converts essentially directly into alcohol, a 9 percent increase in the average sugar content of wine grapes implies a corresponding 9 percent increase in the average alcohol content of wine’.

Closer to home the situation is similar, and attributed to a deliberate policy of harvesting later to create stronger wines for the market.  Decanter magazine reports in France that ‘in both the 2010 and 2009 vintages it was common to see Merlots surpass 15% alcohol.  Later picking – sometimes even after the Sauternes harvest in October – was becoming more common’. As one influential wine critic said, ‘There is a race towards concentration, to please many critics.  I have been a consultant for 30 years; I have spent 20 years telling people not to harvest too early. In the last 10 years I have told them not to harvest too late.”  Just to be clear, the alcohol content is the addictive and dangerous component of drink - why would the industry want to increase it? 

The 'Standard Glass'

The third problem with the new ONS methodology is the issue of the ‘standard glass’.  Respondents are asked to note what measure they used to drink alcohol in the last week - a small, standard or large glass.   The scope for inconsistency and unreliability is obvious.  Astoundingly, while the researchers recognise the problem themselves -  ‘Respondents did not appear to find it difficult to give the glass size, but labelling the 175ml size as ‘standard’ may have encouraged those who did find the question difficult to choose that answer – almost 60 per cent did so’, - but they did nothing to adjust the results accordingly. 

Hospital admissions triple

The findings of a survey which the Portman group, Diageo and the BBPS have all used to claim a fall in alcohol consumption are potentially an underestimate in terms of quantity and strength.  And if the methodology is the only real change, and the results are at odds with the facts, isn’t it Mr. Poley who should be ‘using alcohol statistics sensibly’?
 
Let's take another perspective on the statistics that Poley et al have used the ONS survey to deride.  Hospital admissions are surely a good indicator of when alcohol consumption has gone wrong, and the figures are telling a very clear story.  Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said this week that "Today's report shows the number of people admitted to hospital each year for alcohol-related problems has topped one million for the first time” and ‘alcohol dependency cost the NHS £2.41 million in prescription items last year, an increase of 1.4% on the amount spent in the previous year’.

The Independent continues- “Figures compiled by the NHS Information Centre for the year 2009-2010 revealed 1,057,000 hospital visits in relation to alcohol, a 12% increase on the previous year and more than double the amount recorded in 2002-2003”. And in Ireland the picture is the same. As Jennifer Hough writes in the Irish Examiner of alcohol related deaths, ‘the mortality rate per 100,000 population aged 15 years or more who died while in hospital was 2.6 in 1995, and rose to 7.1 in 2007 — an increase of 173%’.  And in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism Bobby Smyth of the Irish College of Psychiatrists writes ‘Analysis of data from Ireland's Hospital In-Patient Enquiry scheme has revealed a considerable increase in alcohol liver disease…. The rate increased by 190% from 1995 to 2007’

Who should we believe?

President Obama enjoys the craic in Moneygall

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Queen declines a pint and Barrack O' Bama brings his own booze to Ireland. What's the problem?

The myth of moderation - can alcohol be good for you?

The Queen was poured a fresh pint on her tour of the Guinness factory today (18th May) but wisely set it to one side, to the apparent disappointment of the Duke of Edinburgh.  And when President Barrack O'Bama planned a visit to his ancestral home of Moneygall his advisers made the decision to bring a barrel of American beer to Ireland for him to drink.  They must have misunderstood the news that Ireland has a chronic alcohol problem.  It’s not a shortage Mr President, it’s a glut.  They can't have been reading the Irish Examiner which courageously reported (in a special 20-page supplement on 6th May and in many articles since) that our love affair with booze is by no means over despite the many unhappy consequences listed in the paper. For those that missed it, these include 70,000 crimes in 2010, 161,016 bed days in hospital in 2008, and 6.5 billion spent on drink between us in 2009.  This week a further report by UCD explores the unhappy link between suicide and alcohol at times of unemployment.  We really have a lot to worry about.

Don't do it, Sir.
So why was the The Examiner’s public service coverage seen as ‘courageous’? As TD Robert Dowds wrote in a letter published in the paper on 12th May:
As a new TD who called on the Government to seriously pursue a ban on the advertising of alcoholic drinks recently in Dáil Eireann, I must congratulate you on…a brave and challenging decision to publish such a supplement. Will the drinks industry ever advertise in the Irish Examiner again?
Selling the 'little of what you fancy' message

Well maybe they might. The trick with winning the hearts and minds of the public is not to overplay your hand. The alcohol industry has cleverly courted the role of educator in chief, largely through its 'charitable' wing drinkaware.ie.  A role which, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported:
enables the companies to dispel suspicions, appear caring and satisfy shareholders that it is dealing with the long-term potential threats to its business such as anti-industry campaigns and increased government regulation.
Sadly, The Examiner does seem to fit this description too, particularly in its avoidance of blame of the industry or a lax government, and the extraordinary column space given to two coroners who are distinctly off message, arguing ‘the benefits of a few pints’, the relaxation of drink- drive legislation and a ‘cost benefit analysis' of this whole death vs. profits debate about road safety. 

And there is synchronicity too between drinkaware.ie and The Examiner in the message that ‘moderation is good’. Thus The Examiner editorialises about “the harmful effects of alcohol misuse and the urgent need for self-education about the benefits of responsible and sensible drinking”.  What’s wrong with that you say?  Alcohol is good for you in small doses, fine in moderation and only a problem if you overdo it, right?  Well not if you know as much as neuro-psychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt who wrote in the Guardian last month that "There is no safe dose of alcohol”.
The myth of a safe level of drinking is a powerful claim. It is one that many health professionals appear to believe in and that the alcohol industry uses to defend its strategy of making the drug readily available at low prices. However, the claim is wrong and the supporting evidence flawed… Alcohol is a toxin that kills cells such as microorganisms, which is why we use it to preserve food and sterilise skin, needles etc. Alcohol kills humans too. The toxicity of alcohol is worsened because in order for it to be cleared from the body it has to be metabolised to acetaldehyde, an even more toxic substance. Any food or drink contaminated with the amount of acetaldehyde that a unit of alcohol produces would be immediately banned as having an unacceptable health risk.
Alcohol is a poison. The more you have, the more you poison yourself

But what of the endless research papers telling us that drinkers live longer than teetotalers, and that wine in particular protects your heart? Some are simple mis-associations linking the fact that rich people drink wine with the fact that they also live longer.  Yes they live longer, but it is because of the advantages of being rich rather than any benefits of drinking wine.  Poor people who drink die sooner, but they also die sooner than poor people who don't drink.  Further, an American University research team spent time looking at more than 50 studies that claimed that longevity matched moderate alcohol use.   They found a “systematic misclassification error”.   Research reports labelled as ‘abstainers’ those who in fact had a lifetime of drinking alcohol, but gave up often for health reasons in their last years and months.  The apparent benefits of drinking are due to a ‘reduction or termination of drinking in older people due to increased illness, disability, frailty and/or medication'.  Without this misclassification 'the studies judged to be error free found no significant all-cause or cardiac protection” after all. 

Or to quote Physician Ellen CG Grant "In my clinical experience over 50 years, in a society where alcohol drinking has been increasingly regarded as a social necessity, non-drinkers can have health reasons for avoiding alcohol... Migraine patients learn to avoid red wine because they immediately get a headache. Migraine patients are more likely to have strokes".

The conclusion that alcohol does not have any provable health benefits is consistent with the clear advice of the American Heart Foundation that:
How alcohol or wine affects cardiovascular risk merits further research, but right now the American Heart Association does not recommend drinking wine or any other form of alcohol to gain these potential benefits. The AHA does recommend that to reduce your risk you should talk to your doctor about lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling your weight, getting enough physical activity and following a healthy diet. There is no scientific proof that drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage can replace these conventional measures.
So it’s poison, and the more you drink, the more you poison yourself. And it has no scientifically validated benefits, leaving the whole moderation argument looking very dubious.  In fact, as Bobby P Smyth, Clinical Senior Lecturer at the Department of Public Health & Primary Care, Trinity College Dublin wrote, the use of the term ‘moderation’ is itself dangerous because official definitions of it are inconsistent and misunderstood.
In the context of a discussion on alcohol, these words [moderate and moderation] are worse than useless. They are useless because there is no consensus among health professionals, let alone the general population, as to their meaning. International guidelines on low risk drinking are quite heterogeneous. Drinkers in general population samples have a poor and inconsistent understanding of what is meant by "moderate" drinking, with evidence that many people who experience significant alcohol related harm view their own drinking as moderate. In one Irish study of young adults it emerged that just over 50% met DSM-IV criteria for either alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse, yet most of this group viewed their drinking as moderate and nobody was willing to categorise their own drinking as "heavy".
So to return to President O'Bama and his barrel of beer. We don’t miss the insult Barrack, you don’t trust the Moneygall Inn to keep terrorists from climbing in the back-window and poisoning your pint. Well the joke is on you, Mr. President.  The beer you are bringing is already poisonous. Ha ha ha.  Good call Ma'am.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Is Ireland's alcohol legislation now in tatters? Barmen manslaughter trial verdict

Yesterday’s (May 12th 2011) not guilty verdict in the manslaughter case of the two barmen who served lethal amounts of alcohol to a hotel guest raises more questions than it answers. Legislation in place to protect the public from being served potentially lethal doses of alcohol have neatly been sidestepped by Judge Tom Teehan who, in directing the jury that any conviction would be ‘unsafe’, said that while ‘duty of care had been breached’ and the defendants had shown ‘gross negligence’ by serving a ten-shot super-cocktail to an already heavily intoxicated man, the victim’s decision to drink the lethal cocktail once it had been served " was a supervening event to break the chain of causation.". 

Hayes Hotel Thurles

This will surely undermine any notion of duty of care where alcohol is concerned – and raises the obvious question why in Ireland, the home of unsafe drinking, should a judge want to direct a jury away from a guilty verdict?  As the Irish Times editorial says: “Other countries have well-developed liquor liability legislation (that) makes establishments and individuals selling alcohol liable for injuries caused to their customers or to third parties”.  And as recently reported in the Examiner, Australia frequently prosecutes both publicans who serve and customers who drink alcohol to excess in public. 

So why not here in Ireland? 

The Irish Times explains:
The outcome (of the trial) has identified serious gaps in our alcohol-related laws and highlighted a reluctance by successive governments to address them. Any challenge to the drinks industry in this country has been half-hearted, despite the damage caused to society by excessive consumption of alcohol.  Eight years ago, as a result of a rise in late-night public disorder, publicans who served alcohol to intoxicated persons or who permitted drunkenness on their premises could, for the first time, be fined heavily or have their premises closed. It wasn’t enough. In 2008, new laws were passed to protect “the health of individuals and society at large”. Those provisions were aimed mainly at alcohol sales outlets and at under-age drinking. Gardaí were given the power to seize alcohol being consumed in public by young people but, following intense lobbying by supermarkets, physical restrictions affecting licensed premises were not applied.

Liquor liability issues arose last year when Dermot Ahern, then minister for justice, proposed a code of practice for the sale of alcohol. Regulations were put forward to reduce the risk of public disorder and to address health risks arising from the excessive consumption of alcohol. But the Bill never made it past the second stage in the Dáil and it lapsed with the outgoing government.
So have the alcohol lobby won again?  The notion of personal responsibility is of course critical, and when a person who has been drinking decides to drive he or she is (except the farmer with a few pints according to coroner Dr. John Madden) responsible for any damage or injury they subsequently cause.  But the equal and obvious personal responsibility of those who continue to serve alcohol to a drunk person is also critical, as the judge should have been aware.  Moreover the alcohol producer, the drinker, the barman, the manager and the proprietor all have responsibility of one kind or another when dealing with an intoxicating substance known to be dangerous.  Even if we accept the barman's defence that he had never been trained in the selling of spirits, that surely puts the duty of care onto hoteliers and publicans to train staff properly.  Many American states offer such training, including knowledge of the dangers of alcohol and how to respond to situations of this kind, and report reduced alcohol related crime and harm as a result.  Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland makes the case for similar training here.

More to the point, this case would have had far reaching effects if the men were convicted, essentially warning all bars and hotels across the country that they must at last adhere to legislation and not serve excessive amounts of alcohol to anyone who has already been drinking too much.  It would, in other words, have gone a long way to reverse the appalling trend of bingeing and boozing that has been blighting the country over the past decade.  Instead the message is that the legislation is unenforceable, and it is business as usual for publicans whose trade makes 80% of its profits from the 20% of its customers who are alcoholics.

The last word goes to the Irish Examiner, which has fast shed its new found mantle as the guardian of the nation’s sobriety, and editorialises today that “Judge Tom Teehan hit the nail on the head in directing the jury to find both men not guilty because of the high level of personal responsibility relating to drink… The tragic events of this case further highlight the dangers of the harmful effects of alcohol misuse and the urgent need for self-education about the benefits of responsible and sensible drinking”.  This is absurd.  When a sober person serves an eight-shot drink to someone they know has been drinking for four hours already, which of them is capable of exercising personal responsibility at that point?  Exactly the point the legislation exists to address. 

Vintners who might, as TD Robert Dowds wrote, have thought hard about advertising in the paper will now see that their interests are still in safe hands.   Will publicans be trembling at the editors warning that the verdict “should not lead to complacency in the licensed trade towards excessive drinking”?  Excessive complacency no, but unless the civil case now being pursued by the victim’s family succeeds, mild complacency seems in order. As you were.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Charlie Sheen is not alone - alcoholism is set to double. Are we the 'Sheenius' generation?

Charlie Sheen has taken to referring to himself on twitter as 'The Sheenius'.  As his father Martin Sheen told Kirsty Young on the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs, ‘Charlie is dealing with the most profound problems and addiction'.  All sympathy to them both given that alcohol addiction has at best a 30% chance of being defeated even after rehab - or as Charlie, sadly but accurately has said -only a 5% chance if you take the Alcoholics Anonymous route.  

But while the Sheens battle so publicly with the disatrous effects of alcohol abuse and 'Bosses at CBS will be praying that Sheen can finally clean-up his act and that he can over-come his legal woes', up to 10% of the population will also be coping with alcoholism and more again are affected by related problems such as marital violence, crime, career threatening binges and mental-health problems that just won't go away.  Or at least alcoholics used to be 10% of the population.  New research has revealed that in the next ten years we could be looking at an epidemic doubling of that figure. 

Charlie Sheen and Snoop Dogg on Twitter
April was World Alcohol Awareness month, and a good time to take stock of the wealth of research evidence made available about our favourite drug.  A major national American study of teenage drinking habits and attitudes over the past three years brings news that 73 percent of teens report 'having friends who drink alcohol at least once a week'.  The report concludes that  'alarming patterns in early adolescent alcohol use' are emerging, including the finding that 'teens view drinking alcohol – even heavy drinking – as less risky than using other substances'.  And as underage drinking 'becomes more normalized among adolescents, parents feel unable to respond to the negative shifts in teen drug and alcohol use'.  More worrying still, of teens who drink, 60% drink 'for fun' while one in three said they drank “to forget their troubles.” Almost one in four said they used alcohol to help them “deal with problems at home” and one in five reported that they drank to “deal with the pressures and stress of school".  A generation, in other words, which is using alcohol to cope with pretty well every emotion - positive and negative - that life can throw at them.

40% of those who drink by the age of 15 will become alcoholics

Of those who drink, the average age at which they started drinking is also lower.  62% said they had their first full alcoholic drink by age 15 and 25 percent said they drank a full alcoholic drink for the first time by age 12 or younger', making 'the average age of first alcohol use 14'.  This is more alarming when it is realised that the:

“Age of first use is critically important: research has shown that more than 40 percent of those who start drinking at age 14 or younger developed alcohol dependence, compared with 10 percent of those who began drinking at age 20 or older”.

In other words if 50% of teenagers are drinking (as they are in the UK and Ireland) and 40% of those will develop alcohol dependence, a potential 20% of the population could be alcoholics within ten years.

How alcohol permanently changes brain chemistry

These American statistics should be understood in the context of the World Health Organasation’s Global Alcohol Survey which rates drinking patterns in the US as lower in terms of quantity and health risks than those in the UK and Ireland - countries in which the boom in teenage drinking has already been well documented.  And why that critical first use and bingeing are so dangerous is explored in yet another piece of scientific research tracing the negative and permanent effects of alcohol on the brain's chemistry.  In the Univeristy of Mannheim study Neuropharmacology of Alcohol Addiction , Vengeliene and Co. report that: 
“Following long-term...alcohol consumption virtually all brain neurotransmission seems to be affected, contributing to….the transition from controlled to compulsive alcohol use.  Compulsive alcohol drinking is characterized by a decrease in the function of the reward neurocircuitry and a recruitment of antireward/stress mechanisms comes into place”
In other words, alcohol permanently changes the brain's chemistry and how we feel, and is highly addictive because of it.   This is knowledge that the alcohol industry does not want us to have according to the medical historian John C Burnham in his book 'Bad Habits'. Quoting the industry mantra that ‘the root of the problem drinker’s disease lies in the man and not in the bottle’, Burnham notes that ‘the money spent on individualising the problem (by the industry) paid off handsomely,  not in solving drinking problems but in diverting the public’s attention away from the industry’.

Industry targets young people

And if the industry does understand that its product is highly addictive, it might explain why it is apparently motivated to get large quantities of it into the mouths of teenagers through the development of teen-appealing products and mass marketing aimed at that age group.  In looking at statistics it is hard not to be reminded of  Mark Twain's famous phrase, attributed to Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.’  Had either man lived into our own century they would certainly have changed 'statistics' to 'marketing'.  We like to flatter ourselves that we do not succumb to advertising puff, but that the alcohol industry invests £600 million per year in the UK alone tells us otherwise.  Advertising is arguably having the effect of normalising a behaviour that is inherently very dangerous, and the most susceptable to it are our teenagers.  A new Australian study found that:
It is clear that children and youth are exposed to, remember, and like alcohol advertising; and that there is an association between young people’s exposure to and liking of advertisements and current and future drinking. The evidence of a direct association between advertising exposure and underage drinking is mounting, with empirical evidence from recent longitudinal studies showing a direct measurable effect of exposure on drinking initiation and consumption levels.
This week in Australia the government is considering a ban on the mix of alcohol and caffeine which many believe is marketed directly at young people.  ‘An international conference on drugs and young people heard that these drinks are more harmful and more attractive to young people and that they should be banned in Australia.  Meanwhile in Ireland, Diageo must have been looking at the statistics telling them that young women are the emerging market for alcohol products.  They chose Alcohol Awareness month to launch a new drink targetted at this sector of their market.  'Eve' is a kind of beer ‘specifically developed for the female market’, ‘ best-served chilled in a champagne flute, perfect for enjoying in the company of good friends in bars, cafés or at home’. To celebrate the launch, 'leading Irish stylist Angela Scanlon selected a special eve collection, “the ultimate capsule wardrobe” inspired by eve'.  Sheenius.

As with tobacco, the industry is upping the addictive content of their product

Developing new markets is one leg of the industry’s aim, upping the addictive and harmful alcohol content is another.  As Professor Nutt wrote in the Guardian 
Heavily discounted super-strength lagers target the most vulnerable people in society.  For a few pounds customers can buy enough alcohol to exceed the weekly recommended allowance. Alcohol harm is directly related to the amount consumed, though in a non-linear way. So, for example, people in the UK drink about twice as much alcohol per year on average as people in Sweden drink and experience roughly three times the harms and damage.
What is behind this new trend in super-strength lagers and ciders and why are they so cheap? Apologists for the alcohol industry say that it is simply meeting market demand, failing to mention that before these drinks were made available there was no demand [for increased alcohol content]. Just as with the invention of alcopops, one suspects the motive for creating such products is to fuel demand rather than to satiate it. The more alcohol people consume, the more they become dependent on it, so sales rise.
And while average beer strength has grown - from 3 to 6% so too has the strenght of wine.  The average bottle of wine has increased from 9% in 1978 to 12.5% today and wine drinkers - women in particular - may be at risk without realising how strong that glass of wine really is.
 
Professor Nutt himself, of course, famously revised the way in which addictive substances are ranked in order of harm.  Naturally he advised the UK government that alcohol, considered this way, came top of the list - as it surely does.  Unnaturally, he was then sacked by Health Minister Alan Johnson for his honesty.