Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - June 2010

* Cheaper than Water *

The claim that beer is being sold cheaper than water is grossly dishonest

THE ANTI-DRINK lobby and the likes of the “Daily Mail” have often been heard to claim that supermarkets are irresponsibly “selling beer cheaper than water”. But, when you look into this, it is highly misleading, because they are not remotely comparing like with like.

In Tesco, you can buy four cans of “value lager” for 92p, or 52p per litre. But this only has a strength of 2% ABV, which would have made it legal under US Prohibition. Given the sheer amount of liquid you would need to consume, it would be well-nigh physically impossible to get in any sense drunk on the stuff. Indeed, it baffles me why anyone would want to buy it. They are then comparing this with the price of premium branded bottled waters – the most expensive multipack I found was Highland Spring at 76p a litre. Again I can’t understand why anyone would spend so much on water, but if people do that’s their choice.

A far more honest comparison would be with the supermarkets’ “value” bottled water. When I recently checked on Tesco’s shelves, their still water was 13p for a two-litre bottle, and the fizzy water a mere 10p, or only a tenth of the price per litre of the lager. Even the more reasonably priced branded waters are far cheaper than the lager, and Tesco’s standard own-brand lager would be considerably dearer than any water. Yes, it may be true that the very cheapest and weakest lager is a bit cheaper than an expensive designer water, but as a general statement the claim that beer is being sold cheaper than water just does not stand up. You can no doubt buy an expensive racing bike for more than the cost of an old banger, but that does not mean in any meaningful sense that cars are cheaper than bicycles.

This claim is not far short of an outright lie, and is typical of the dishonest tactics used by the anti-drink lobby. It is on a par with their constant references to “24-hour drinking” when in fact the number of pubs open for the serving of alcohol 24 hours a day can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Given this, it is regrettable that it has been taken up by some people seeking to champion pubs, who really should know better.

* Because Nanny Says So *

Made-up targets do the cause of health promotion no good

A WHILE BACK I highlighted how the official guidelines on safe drinking levels had been plucked out of thin air with no scientific basis. Now it seems as though the message of eating “five-a-day” portions of fruit and vegetables falls into the same category. A massive study covering over 500,000 people has shown that the reduction in cancer risk is a mere 2.5%, which falls well short of being statistically significant. And apparently the figure was dreamed up in California in 1988 for no better reason than it was double the average consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Now, obviously in a broad sense eating fruit and vegetables is going to do you good, so it’s easy to say that even an unscientific target can’t do any harm. However, if taken too seriously, it can lead to the inappropriate targeting of resources on people who are only falling a bit short of the target, and can be harmful if applied strictly to children who need plenty of protein and calcium to help them grow. Also, it is likely to undermine the credibility of all health messages, however sound the scientific backing. When you were a small child, if you were told not to do something, but given no better reason than “because mummy says so”, you would never have found it very convincing.

If we are to be given official health advice, it must be based on good scientific evidence and treat us as responsible adults, not naughty children.

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