These laughable alcohol guidelines are no joke

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

It’s Friday, the weekend starts here. But before I reach for that glorious first pint after work, I need to reach for a thesaurus: absurd, bizarre, comical, farcical, ludicrous, nonsensical, preposterous, ridiculous. All eminently suitable words to describe the new guidelines for drinking laid out by the UK’s chief medical officers.

According to the UK’s ‘top doctors’, it is unsafe to drink any more than two units of alcohol per day on a regular basis. To put that into context, that’s one pint of fairly weak beer or a single glass of wine. In other words, a laughably small amount of alcohol. You might as well save your money and stay teetotal given the utter lack of buzz you would get from such a trivial amount of booze.

The quacks in charge of dishing out health advice argue that any amount of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer, but, being the generous types they are, they are prepared to be lenient with us and suggest that up to 14 units per week – now the same recommended amount for both men and women – is ‘safe’ in the same way that other normal activities like driving are ‘safe’. Gosh, thanks. The word from on high is that it’s okay to drink at levels that are as safe as a really, really safe thing. In fact, there’s plenty of reason to believe that in terms of our overall health, moderate drinking may well be beneficial. The new guidelines claim this is untrue, but that flies in the face of a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Moderate drinkers live longer than teetotallers.

But life is about more than the avoidance of death. Alcohol is the fuel for so many joyous things, from quietly relaxing at the end of a busy day to a raucous night out on the tiles with friends. Why limit ourselves to the thimblefuls of booze suggested by this pious lot when there is so much pleasure to be had from another glass?

The real danger is not to our health but to our freedom. First, a guideline is set about what is a ‘responsible’ level of drinking. Second, when drinkers sensibly ignore that guideline, there are clarion voices demanding that Something Must Be Done. (Usually, this involves saving ‘Our NHS’ from the demands placed on it by drinkers – ignoring the huge taxes drinkers already pay to help fund healthcare.) Third, something is done – higher taxes, minimum-unit prices, ever-bigger and scarier warning labels, clampdowns on younger drinkers, and so on.

So while these guidelines will undoubtedly induce a cocktail of astonishment and mirth, there are serious risks that come with them. As smokers have found out all too often to their cost, the public-health mob could soon be calling time on our ability to enjoy a drink when we want to.

Rob Lyons is campaigns manager at Action on Consumer Choice.

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Topics Politics


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