The 14th – 20th November sees the launch by anti-alcohol charity Alcohol Concern of the 'Alcohol Concern Charter', using their annual 'Alcohol Awareness Week' as a platform. The Charter, which they invite us all to sign, calls for a number of things, including "the right to objective and independent information and education on the consequences of alcohol consumption on health, the family and society."
The pity is they don’t live up to their own Charter’s aspirations. Alcohol Concern list as fact a number of highly contentious claims which are based on anything but "objective and independent information". For example they claim as fact:
- Every hour more than 100 people go into hospital in England and Wales with an alcohol-related condition
- Every day more than 40 people die as a result of alcohol in England and Wales
The truth is no one actually knows how many alcohol-related hospital admissions there are or how many people die as a result of alcohol in England and Wales. It is simply not the case that a qualified clinician diagnoses and records each and every alcohol-related hospital admission or death, and that the numbers are then collated nationally.
In fact alcohol-related hospital admissions are calculated using a complex mathematical model, developed by the World Health Organisation in 2003, that estimates the disease burden and acute consequences of alcohol consumption through the calculation of something called 'attributable fractions'. The 'attributable fraction' is defined as the proportion of disease risk in a population that would not have occurred, if exposure to a given risk factor (alcohol) had not taken place. So in reality all the figures quoted by Alcohol Concern, about alcohol-related hospital admissions and alcohol-related deaths are simply an estimate calculated from an 11 year-old mathematical model.
Alcohol Concern originated from a split with the Institute of Alcohol Studies, which is a straight-down-the line abolitionist organisation, linked to the International Order of Good Templars that wants a "world free of alcohol and other drugs". Alcohol Concern is campaigning for a “life free from the effects of alcohol harms”. It is difficult in practice to put a piece of paper between these two positions. Although they don’t openly call for the abolition of alcohol they advocate reducing the level of alcohol consumption across the whole population - not just for ‘problem drinkers' - but everyone needs to drink less, so far as they are concerned.
The Coalition Government recently cut off £400,000 of funding provided by the Department for Health, prompting the resignation of Alcohol Concern’s Chief Executive Don Shenker. This follows their rejection of the industry responsibility deal to which government and the drinks’ industry are committed. Alcohol concern rejects any involvement by the drinks’ industry in the formation of alcohol policy as tantamount to supping with the Devil!
Alcohol Awareness Week and the Alcohol Concern Charter are an attempt to plug the funding gap by recruiting grass-roots support. By quoting alarmist and distorted statistics Alcohol Concern hopes to discover an army of cause-oriented activists willing to tilt at windmills. Who knows, a tented city of oh-so-sincere citizens may well be pitched outside a brewery or distillery near you!