Why Rooney Anand is talking rubbish on minimum alcohol pricing

I was disappointed and angry to see Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King, calling in the Daily Telegraph last week for minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Disappointed because the arguments for minimum unit pricing have been totally debunked, and Mr Anand should really have known he was talking rubbish – or his advisers should have told him. Angry because I cannot understand why he is using his position as boss of one of the largest brewers and pub operators in the country to promote the agenda of the neoprohibitionists for whom minimum unit pricing is but a small step on the way to totally restricting the sale of alcohol.

“Binge drinking continues to adversely affect our nation,” Anand cried, insisting that we have a “growing culture of irresponsible drinking”. And yet since 2004 there has been an 18.9% fall in alcohol consumption per head and consumption is now at its lowest level this century. Violent crime linked to alcohol has fallen by 32% since 2004 and by 47% since 1995. Where is your evidence for a “growing culture of irresponsible drinking”? Since 2005 the number of men “binge drinking” (a dubious concept in its own right, as I pointed out here) has fallen by 17%; the number of women binge drinking has fallen by 23%; and binge drinking among 16 to 24-year-olds has fallen by 31% among men and by 34% among women. In 2012-13, alcohol consumption in England and Wales fell by 2.1% year-on-year, to its lowest level since 1990. “When it is possible to walk into a shop and buy a bottle of beer for less than a bottle of water, it is no surprise that, as a nation, we are moving in the wrong direction in our relationship with and consumption of alcohol,” Anand asserts. So a fall of almost a fifth in alcohol consumption in the past ten years is a move in the wrong direction, Rooney? Or do you not actually know that consumption is falling? Incidentally, that fall of nearly a fifth in alcohol consumption is actually far more than its proponents claimed would have been achieved by introducing minimum pricing. Oh, and it’s NOT possible to buy a bottle of beer for less than the price of a bottle of water, and never has been, unless you are talking about the most expensive designer water.

The first mash at the new Greene King brewhouse, Bury St Edmunds, 1939
The first mash at the new Greene King brewhouse, Bury St Edmunds, 1939

Anand goes on to claim that a 50p minimum unit price “could” reduce the costs to the NHS caused by alcoholic overindulgence by “as much as” £417m a year. Ignoring the two sets of weasel words there – “could” and “as much as”, the use of which sucks all the veracity out of his claim– it’s a pathetic claim anyway. £417m equals 31p per household per week. Big swing.

Next up, Anand references “a recent study by the University of Sheffield” which “indicated that minumum unit pricing” would have a larger positive impact on those in poverty, particularly high risk drinkers. Allegedly, minimum unit pricing “targets those prone to binge drinking, with their consumption expected to fall 7% through raising the price of approximately 30% of units sold to harmful drinkers.” But as Paul Chase, author of the excellent book Culture Wars and Moral Panic: The Story of Alcohol and Society (I’ve nicked all the stats here from him), has pointed out, “the Sheffield minimum pricing model is based on absurd assumptions, such as the belief that heavy drinkers are much more price-sensitive than moderate drinkers, and assumptions made about the price-elasticity of demand for alcohol that are at odds with what economic research and common sense tell us about the relationship between price and consumption.” To fill that out: there is no evidence at all that making drink dearer for heavy, problem drinkers will stop them drinking as much as they already do. Indeed, it seems more than likely that what will happen is that they will cut down on expenditure elsewhere in order to find the money to carry on drinking as much as ever.

Anand calls the failure to introduce a minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland “disappointing”. But Scotland’s attempt to introduce minimum pricing hasn’t gone through because it is currently the subject of an investigation by the European Court of Justice, which is likely to give its decision on whether the proposal is legal, or breaks EU competition law, only at the end of 2015 or early in 2016. Expert betting is that it will be ruled illegal.

It is hard not to assume that Anand is backing the idea of minimum unit pricing because he thinks that it makes him appear on the side of the “good guys”, despite being a producer of “demon alcohol”. Perhaps, too, he thinks that minimum unit pricing will hurt the supermarkets more than it will the brewers and pub owners, and for that reason it’s a Good Thing. But he really needs to think about who he is getting into bed with by promoting minimum unit pricing. These are people prepared to lie and distort to promote their aims – the claim that “up to” 35% of A&E admissions are “alcohol-related”, for example, which is completely made up, of the equally preposterous claim that “Alcohol misuse hands a hefty annual bill of £21bn to UK taxpayers”, which is, again, based on unverifiable guesses and false reasoning. But the anti-alcohol lobby genuinely doesn’t care if its statistics aren’t true. It only wants to see its policies adopted, because it thinks it knows best what is good for all of us. To quote Paul Chase again: “Public discourse on alcohol is dominated by an absolutist, loony-left dominated, alcophobic public health movement that has become a vehicle for Big Business bashing.” Really, Rooney, do you think you should be promoting a policy these people want?

0 thoughts on “Why Rooney Anand is talking rubbish on minimum alcohol pricing

  1. You are correct Martyn, but the “absolutist, loony-left dominated, alcophobic public health movement that has become a vehicle for Big Business bashing” is so powerful largely because of its success with tobacco. Success that, if I recall correctly, you applaud despite it resulting from similarly dubious tactics and emanating from the same authoritarian left.

    1. The vast majority of people in this country drink without harm. A small minority of people in this country smoke, doing themselves harm and potentially causing harm to others. Not the same. Sorry.

      1. I though that you were writing about the appalling standards of politically motivated junk public health science and the dubious motives of those who support it to achieve their own vested interests. Are you saying that you number among them and are only selectively concerned by the absolutist loony left? Or are you claiming that the junk science written about passive smoking is more compelling than that written about alcohol by the same people simply because it suits your prejudices? Can you genuinely not see that the same tactics used to marginalise smokers are now being used against other consumers and that by supporting those tactics when it suited you, you are contributing to your own repression? Whether tobacco or alcohol is more harmful to society or individuals is irrelevant to the thrust of your post and my response.

        1. Personally, I don’t care if anyone locks themselves in an airtight box and smokes themselves to death but, when I’m sitting in a tavern, pub, or local brewery’s tasting room the last thing I want to interrupt my palatial enjoyment is a cloud of smoke! I’m glad that where I live and allot of other places have banned smoking in eateries and watering holes. I don’t care if you go outside and smoke either….just get away from the doors and head downwind!

          1. How very magnanimous of you Bob! I don’t smoke myself but I preferred it when my local allowed it if only because more people used it and I enjoy company.

            I suppose that I am fortunate in that I tolerate smoke much better than I do self righteous bigotry and intolerance.

          2. I smoke and drink. I choose my beer and my tobacco carefully and do not tolerate crap. I am fully aware that the most popular brands of both products are low-quality rubbish which I don’t mind other people enjoying, but don’t wish to partake in myself. If the guy at the next barstool kept topping up my pint with his Fosters I wouldn’t be happy about it. I’d like someone to put a stop to that sort of behaviour. Before the smoking ban, that’s what smoky pubs were like for me.

            Not in my name, idenisovich.

  2. 20% of adults is hardly a small minority – and a considerably higher proportion than those who drink real ale. And it doesn’t really matter if you seek to distinguish tobacco from alcohol when the neo-Prohibitionists lump you both in the same basket.

    Like it or not, the tactics and arguments previously deployed against tobacco are now being deployed against alcohol.

  3. First they came for the smokers but I was not a smoker ( and found the smell on my clothes annoying) so I did nothing… then they came for the drinkers and oh my goodness did I squeal like a little piggie because it was all lies.. and sooo unfair…
    .. What did you think was going to happen once public health zealots had exhausted ideas/cash out of smoking ?
    Note to Martyn …the UK Centres for Tobacco Control Studies (“UKCTCS” ) are one by one changing to “UKCTAS”.. (UK Centres for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies)….

    You may correctly identify Mr Anand as naive / short termist / plain wrong on his views ( i agree with much of what you say)… but the same must be levelled at you if you think that everything the “looney left” say about tobacco is true but everything they say about alcohol.is lies. Stand together or they will pick off the things they look down their noses on ..one by one.

    1. Smoking kills a very large percentage of those who do it and puts those they smoke around at risk too – as well as being deeply unpleasant to be near. Why do you think I should support something that is dangerous and unpleasant?

      1. “Alcohol is associated with certain cancers, liver disease and suicide. It is also associated with violent assault, murder and rape. It kills a lot of people and puts those associated with drinkers at risk. There is no safe level of exposure with respect to cancer and it causes over a million hospital admissions a year in the UK.”

        Personally, I like to drink alcohol and I regard the public health speak above as dangerous ideologically inspired nonsense. My issues with you are the double standard by which you accept similar healthspeak from the same people about smoking together with your stubborn refusal to admit that by doing so, you have paved the way for them to attack drinkers.

        Are you blinded by your hatred of smokers to the extent that you are incapable of rational argument? I am genuinely intrigued as you seem otherwise quite bright and reasonable.

        1. “your stubborn refusal to admit that by doing so, you have paved the way for them to attack drinkers” I don’t refuse to admit that the success of the health nazis over smoking has led them to believe they can do the same with drinking. Point to where I have ever said that. What winds the pro-smokers up is that they can’t accept that it is possible to agree with the health nazis over smoking and disagree with them over drink.

          1. I was criticising you for something that you hadn’t done. It is rather difficult to point to a specific example of you not saying anything.

            I am not sure who the pro-smokers are and why you would want to wind them up.

            Personally I am consistently anti-Nazi. I understand that you are pro-Nazi when it suits your agenda. I can’t say that I find your stance terribly principled but at least you are honest about it.

            Thanks for the book tip.I will read it.

      2. There’s little doubt that if you smoke it increases your risk of mortality, as do many other things like shift work or being a deep-sea fisherman. But saying it kills a large percentage of those who do it is a gross exaggeration. And the evidence that second-hand smoke poses a significant health risk is highly debatable.

        As the previous poster has said, many would regard drinking alcohol as “dangerous and unpleasant”. But wanting to ban anything you find unpleasant is a pretty intolerant viewpoint. I don’t smoke, but that doesn’t mean I want to stop anyone ever doing it upwind of me.

        1. “saying it kills a large percentage of those who do it is a gross exaggeration.”

          The probabilities of death from lung cancer before the age of 75 in the United Kingdom are 0.2% for men who never smoked, 5.5% for male former smokers, 15.9% for current male smokers and 24.4% for male “heavy smokers”, defined as smoking more than five cigarettes per day. Almost one in four heavy smokers dying from lung cancer, against one in 500 non-smokers, strikes me as quite a large percentage – would would you classify it as?

          1. ‘course, lung cancer is only one of the fatal diseases with a strong link to smoking. There’s other cancers (bladder cancer anyone?), other lung disease and heart and circulatory diseases. What’s it all add up to? I’ve read various (mainstream) things thatmake out that “about half” long-term smokers die of recognised smoking related diseases. If that’s anything like right, then that is a pretty large percentage.

  4. Suppose minimum pricing puts a floor on alcohol prices. No more slabs of cans in Tesco or cheap bottles of wine in Lidl. Why think this won’t affect the prices of middle of the market and premium products? Surely the makers and retailers of middle of the market products will raise their prices to differentiate their product and to avoid the implied message that it is a budget brand. And then for the same reason premium products will do it too.

  5. The problem with this whole debate is that, by and large, people don’t actually want to have a debate – on either side. The stats quoted in this post make a nice change, but I was deeply depressed to discover that Paul Chase believes the public health movement is dominated by the “loony left” and engaged in “Big Business bashing”.

    I am what Paul Chase would classify as ‘loony left’ (I’m a Marxist, for a start), I think Big Business could very often do with a bit of bashing, and I think the prohibitionists are an absolute menace. The evidence on passive smoking is not in, and it should be by now – there should have been a rapid and pronounced uptick in respiratory & circulatory health outcomes, traceable to the time of the smoking ban. I don’t much like being lied to, and I believe that we were lied to about how dangerous passive smoking was & how effective the ban would be – certainly about how strong the evidence was. We were then lied to (briefly) about how effective the ban had been; and now… well, never mind all that, aren’t pubs nicer places than they used to be? It’s a con; the ostensible aim was to protect non-smokers, but the real aim was to coerce smokers into giving up. It also normalised action against smokers – paving the way for display bans, etc – and helped normalise the idea of the government intervening to save people from themselves.

    It comes down to where you draw the line between government power and individual freedom. I don’t think the government has any business telling me not to do something because it’s likely to harm me (and me alone) – let alone structuring the social environment to make it harder to do that thing. But that’s what the prohibitionists did with the smoking ban, and that’s what they’re going to try to do with alcohol.

    But ‘loony left’ is way off the mark; the public health people I’ve met are about as radical as David Miliband. They have a certain gleam in their eyes, but it’s pure managerialism – control people’s behaviour here and they cause us less trouble / cost us less money down here.

    1. ” I don’t think the government has any business telling me not to do something because it’s likely to harm me (and me alone) – let alone structuring the social environment to make it harder to do that thing.”

      So I assume you opposed the introduction of the motorcycle helmet law, and the seatbelt law?

      1. If you agree with those laws, you have no legitimate argument against minimum pricing. “If it saves just one life”, as they say.

          1. Nor do bans on smoking in pubs stop people smoking. What they do, I’m delighted to say, is stop people smoking near me when I’m in a pub trying to enjoy a pint. If you believe your right to smoke wherever you want over-rides my right to a smoke-free environment, I’m afraid we will have to disagree.

          2. Oh, I was agreeing with you Martyn. When I said “seat belts aren’t installed in automobiles as a means of prohibiting people from driving,” I was responding to Nightspark. Minimum pricing seems to be aimed at eliminating alcohol consumption. Seatbelts aren’t aimed at eliminating driving, just at making driving a safer activity. So saying “you have no legitimate argument against minimum pricing” doesn’t apply when using that line of logic.

      2. OK, here you go. Seatbelt and helmet laws facilitate dangerous activities by forcing people to take precautions when taking part in them. They don’t stop people doing those things or even make them noticeably harder, apart from the one-off cost of buying a helmet for people who had been doing without.

        You could use this sort of argument – making an inherently dangerous activity safer rather than trying to prevent it – to justify marginal strength reductions (although there must come a point at which the beer just isn’t the same beer any more). It would also justify a public health campaign to promote vaping as a relatively safe alternative to smoking. This in itself makes me think that ‘make it safer’ isn’t the main logic driving current campaigners.

    2. Well, I rather enjoy the “individual freedom” of being able to spend some time in the pub without having some disgusting old geezer’s second-hand toxic fumes forced into my lungs.

      1. Exposure to other people’s smoke in a pub may be unpleasant, but there’s little or no evidence for calling it ‘toxic’, bizarrely enough. (As I said in my earlier comment, if second-hand smoke were a major health risk there would have been a definite slump in tobacco-related mortality and morbidity after the ban, and there wasn’t.)

        But I enjoy a smoke-free environment myself, and if individual pubs and bars were able to declare a ban I’d spend a lot of drinking time in the smoke-free ones. I know this to be true, because (before the ban) they could and I did.

        1. Quite so – it’s called consumer choice. There was no law against no-smoking rooms, or even entire non-smoking pubs, before the ban, and indeed I reckon there were a lot more than antismokers claim. If you didn’t like smoky pubs, there was plenty of opportunity to vote with your feet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.