Curmudgeon News - February 2000

This Month's Items Include:

  • Health Danger from Traffic Exaggerated
  • US State Seeks to Outlaw Obesity
  • The Large Majority
  • Prominent Pub Bites the Dust
  • Heart Attacks Blamed on Drink Binges
  • Drug-Driving Probe
  • Government Urged to Revise Pregnancy Drink Advice
  • Recovery Time for Train Drivers
  • Passive Smoking Risk Overstated
  • Families Save 1,000 a Year by Car
  • Dirt Could be Good for You
  • Driving Test Age to be Raised?

Complete News Index


  • Health Danger from Traffic Exaggerated

    Government agencies have seriously exaggerated the health dangers posed by increasing road traffic, according to an unpublished study conducted for the Department of Health. The report suggests that the risk from traffic-caused air pollution are 1,000 times lower than those associated with smoking and casts doubt on the value of attempts by central and local government to impose specific air quality standards. The study, submitted to ministers three months ago, says public authorities "actively promote atmospheric pollution as a major health problem", while failing to point out that levels of toxic emissions by vehicles are falling substantially despite traffic growth. It also accuses the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions of "clearly making the linkage between air quality and health as the primary rationale for traffic reduction" in guidelines issued to local authorities. So next time some local government spokesman tells you that traffic reduction is essential to improve air quality, you'll know that their real objective is to discredit car use and curtail your freedom of movement, and they're not going to let the facts stand in their way.

  • US State Seeks to Outlaw Obesity

    The US state of Colorado is reported to be in the process of drafting an "Obesity Prevention Act". Fat people are to be considered to be suffering from a disease and dieting is to become official health policy. Some politicians want to examine ways of preventing people from over-eating at meals. There are concerns that restaurants could suffer the same fate as the tobacco industry. Next thing, they'll be banning the overweight from breeding. The crusade against drinkers, smokers and fatties is becoming disturbingly reminiscent of Nazi-style eugenics.

  • The Large Majority

    On the other hand, for the first time ever, the number of overweight people in the world equals the number of thin and hungry ones, according to the Worldwatch Institute in Washington. While 1.2 billion people don't have enough to eat, another 1.2 billion eat too much and are now "probably the fastest-growing group of the malnourished". Perhaps at first glance an argument for Communism, but surely the moral of this is that if you concentrate on the size of the cake rather than how it's divided you end up with more for everyone. There are now plenty of developing countries such as Brazil and Colombia where over a third are overweight, and the figure is 15% even in China. Obesity as an index of prosperity - there's a thought! Now where did I put those pies?

  • Prominent Pub Bites the Dust

    The Royal Oak on Altrincham Road, Baguley, has now been razed to the ground by the bulldozers, prior to the construction of a drive-thru (sic) McDonalds. On a main bus route, with thousands of houses within walking distance, the fate of this big, prominently-sited pub starkly underlines the current crisis in large sections of the pub trade.

  • Heart Attacks Blamed on Drink Binges

    Weekend booze binges and the stresses of going back to work could be contributing to a higher rate of heart attacks on a Monday, according to research. A 10-year study carried out in Scotland suggested that up to 20% more people die from heart attacks on a Monday than any other day. Since they now seem to define a binge as drinking three pints in a session, they can blame anything on it. It's obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense that the main factor here is work-related stress and the researchers should be honest and admit it. What proportion of people really indulge in what you and I would call drinking binges anyway? A tiny minority, I suspect.

  • Drug-Driving Probe

    The government have asked the Transport Research Laboratory to study the role of illegal drugs in road accidents. Many police forces now believe that illegal drugs are responsible for more road casualties than excess alcohol, and that as many as 90,000 people may escape prosecution each year due to the lack of proper testing procedures. One in six drivers injured in accidents shows some traces of illegal drugs. About time too! But it is important to retain a sense of proportion and ensure that the research focuses on impairment rather than the mere presence of drug residues. Traces of cannabis, for example, can remain for two weeks, by which time any impact on driving must be long gone. As we appear to be inching towards a more tolerant legal climate for drugs, particularly cannabis, we must be careful not to use road traffic law as back-door drug prohibition, as a nil or near-nil alcohol limit would be.

  • Government Urged to Revise Pregnancy Drink Advice

    Even pregnant women who stick rigidly to government advice on how much is safe to drink may be damaging their unborn children, researchers at Queens University in Belfast have found. Tests on babies in the womb 25 weeks into pregnancy, involving their reaction to an electrical stimulus, have revealed that even drinking the equivalent of four glasses of wine a week can affect development. Possibly the babies whose mothers enjoyed the odd drink were more content and less jumpy. There is no real-world evidence whatsoever that light drinking during pregnancy does any harm to child development. This is one of the most pernicious myths put about by the anti-drink lobby.

  • Recovery Time for Train Drivers

    ASLEF General Secretary Mick Rix has called for longer breaks in train drivers' shift patterns to give time to remove the effects of social drinking and recreational drugs from their systems. Drivers from ethnic minorities, he says, may prefer using soft drugs to alcohol. Not surprisingly, this drew ritual cries of horror - but it is highlighting issues we have to face up to. I know from conversations with train drivers that they are subject to a much stricter alcohol code than motorists and, given that they often only get one day off a week, never really get chance to relax with a few drinks. If we are going to say that it is unacceptable for train drivers to use cannabis off-duty at all, then we should be giving them random drug tests and dismissing them for any traces. If not, then the question of recovery time must be addressed.

  • Passive Smoking Risk Overstated

    The risk of developing lung cancer from passive smoking may have been overstated, scientists have found. A research team from Warwick University has re-analysed 37 previous studies into passive smoking, and have concluded that the increased risk of lung cancer is more likely to be around 15% as opposed to the 24% previously believed. This indicates that seven out of every eight cases of lung cancer in non-smokers are not related to passive smoking - a very flimsy basis for the current hysterical campaign against smoking in public places. (I will remind readers that I am a non-smoker but a strong believer in lifestyle freedom)

  • Families Save 1,000 a Year by Car

    Families save hundreds of hours and more than 1,000 a year by using the car rather than public transport, according to an annual survey of drivers' attitudes published by the RAC. Among a national sample of almost 1,600 drivers, average commuting times were found to be 84 minutes by public transport and 25 minutes in the car. Typical return fares were 14.20 while equivalent motoring costs were only 8.20. This shows clearly that, for the majority of car commuting, public transport is not a credible alternative and never will be. Rather than making generalised exhortations to switch to public transport, most of which will fall on deaf ears, Prescott, McDonald and company should concentrate on projects such as the South Manchester Metrolink extension which really do have the potential to make a difference in specific areas.

  • Dirt Could be Good for You

    An upsurge in asthma cases may be partly due to the good standards of hygiene and clean food common in developed countries. Research by Italian scientists published in the British Medical Journal suggests that exposure to some infections in early childhood may help to prevent the development of allergic reactions, such as asthma and rhinitis. This is because the immune system becomes accustomed to dealing with foreign invaders, and without that exposure it remains weak and vulnerable. More evidence that our cocooned, over-hygienic lifestyle actually does us no good, that also further discredits the supposed link between traffic pollution and asthma. New Zealand, for example, has some of the cleanest air in the world, and one of the highest asthma rates.

  • Driving Test Age to be Raised?

    It is reported that the government are considering preventing young people from taking driving tests until they are 18, although they will still be able to hold provisional licences at 17. Just as I predicted a few months ago. Are you really any safer at 18 than 17? While most Continental countries have a minimum driving age of 18, they almost all have much worse road safety records than the UK. Learning to drive early may well be a major factor in our relatively good record. Given that they have also talked about raising the minimum age for buying tobacco products, you could easily get the impression that the only activity the government wants to encourage in the 16-17 age group is gay sex. I'm glad I'm the wrong side of forty (or is that the right side?)

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