Curmudgeon News - 1999

December

  • Was it Poor Diet rather than Passive Smoking that Killed Roy Castle?
  • Six Rural Pubs Lost Every Month
  • Cycle Lanes are Dangerous
  • British Motorists Worst Off in Europe
  • Prescott the Motorist's Friend?
  • Big Brother at the Checkout
  • No Evidence of Excessive Soft Drink Prices

November

  • Canada Rejects Lower Drink-Drive Limit
  • Britain Has Fastest Rising Tax Burden in Europe
  • Smoking on the Increase, Despite Nanny's Advice
  • Will Drinkers be Next?
  • Soft Drink Prices Irrelevant to Drink-Driving
  • EU Plans Increase in Minimum Driving Age
  • Supermarkets to Slash Beer Range?

October

  • Pubs Give Way to McDonalds
  • Blair Sucks Up to Tyrant
  • Subverting the Nanny State
  • Tobacco Ad Ban Delayed

September

  • Shebeens - Growth Area of the Drinks Trade
  • Hoist by His Own Petard
  • Why Jail 90-Year-Olds?

August

  • Do We Have Too Many Police?
  • Dead Drunk

Complete News Index


December 1999

  • Was it Poor Diet rather than Passive Smoking that Killed Roy Castle?

    Research by Dr Kenneth Denson of the Thame Thrombosis and Haemostasis Research Foundation (who receives no funding from the tobacco industry) shows that smokers' poor health is likely to be as much linked to poor diet as the effects of smoking, and largely discredits the passive smoking theory. 1 in 10 lung cancer sufferers have never smoked. This reveals the "passive smoking" threat to be something blown up out of all proportion by the "New Puritans" to stop others doing something they don't like. And Dr Denson mischievously suggests that Roy Castle's lung cancer was more likely the result of his poor diet as a musician than of passive smoking.

  • Six Rural Pubs Lost Every Month

    Britain's lopsided housing boom is threatening to drive the village pub out of sought-after areas, according to the government's main rural adviser, the Countryside Agency. Scores of country pubs have been converted into commuter housing or second homes in the past two years, and the rate of closure and sale for housing has now topped six pubs a week. "Things have reached the stage where intervention by the planning authorities or business rate concessions are necessary to save the day," said Mary Owen, community development officer for the agency. It's hardly surprising that so many rural pubs are closing when the government misses no opportunity to tell their customers that it is the height of irresponsibility to visit them in the only way possible - by car - even if they are breaking no law by doing so.

  • Cycle Lanes are Dangerous

    Roads with cycle lanes are reported to be more dangerous for cyclists than those without. Casualties on routes with schemes aimed at reducing the risk of an accident on two wheels were found to be twice as high as the injury rate on roads with no special provision. Many of the supposedly cycle-friendly schemes I see, particularly those involving riding on pavements, are rarely if ever used by cyclists and appear to be a complete waste of money. And what's the point of having all these "Cyclists Dismount" signs when that's the last thing a cyclist wants to do? Do they actually ever ask cyclists what kind of cycle lane schemes they would prefer?

  • British Motorists Worst Off in Europe

    Motorists in Britain get a worse deal than their European counterparts, an AA report has revealed. Britons suffer the longest traffic jams, most car crime and must pay more for their petrol and cars. UK car theft is twice the European average, and 15 times higher than in Switzerland. Britons pay the most in tax, but investment in road and public transport, relative to the size of the economy, is about a third lower than typical European levels. The only good aspect about driving in Britain is that roads here are Europe's safest. Yet Prescott wants to tax motorists even more without reinvesting any of it in better, safer roads. Do we have a transport policy or an anti-transport policy?

  • Prescott the Motorist's Friend?

    John Prescott apparently makes something of a U-turn and suddenly claims to be the motorist's friend. Actions speak louder than words. We might start to believe him if the government reinstated desperately needed parts of the roads programme like the A6(M) and the MAELR, froze fuel duty and stopped local authorities reducing speed limits in defiance of official guidelines. Until then, we'll take it with several pinches of salt.

  • Big Brother at the Checkout

    Supermarkets will be asked by the government to analyse till receipts to determine whether or not people are eating a healthy diet. The Nanny State marches on! And how on earth do they know how many people you're buying for, or how long you expect the food to last? If they start using information collected from loyalty cards to give you patronising "healthy eating" messages I'll certainly be cutting mine up!

  • No Evidence of Excessive Soft Drink Prices

    The Office of Fair Trading has rejected a government call for an investigation into the prices charged for soft drinks in pubs, bars and restaurants. The watchdog said it saw no evidence of abuse of market power or any competition issues. It puts the higher prices down to the higher operating costs of bars and restaurants. Just as I told you last month - this issue is a complete red herring.


November 1999

  • Canada Rejects Lower Drink-Drive Limit

    The Government of Canada has decisively rejected calls to lower the permitted blood alcohol level for driving from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml. This followed publication of an influential report by a key Canadian road safety advisory group which highlighted the "lack of convincing scientific evidence" that lowering the limit would cut casualties and warned of the risk of losing public support in the war against drunken driving. Three cheers for common sense, and a victory for real road safety. So isn't it time that our lot stopped sitting on the fence - as they have been doing for two years - and made the same decision?

  • Britain has Fastest Rising Tax Burden in Europe

    A survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the tax burden in Britain was rising faster than anywhere else in Europe. Obviously you can't hide "stealth taxes" for ever - and interestingly this was quickly followed by Gordon Brown's mini-budget in which he announced the abandonment of the automatic escalator on fuel and tobacco taxation.

  • Smoking on the Increase, Despite Nanny's Advice

    A survey by Mintel found that, while the number of smokers among the poorest is stable or declining, it is rising among the AB social classes and among the 18-34 age group. It was hoped that the ABs and the 18-34s would be those most receptive to restrictions in public places and to advertising bans but, according to the survey, restrictions have simply made smoking appear more cool. The widespread availability of cheap bootlegged cigarettes is also a major factor in this. As a non-smoker I can't really say I welcome this, but I don't believe people should be bullied out of smoking, and it's reassuring to see people being so resistant to the Nanny State. And have severe restrictions and vast amounts of negative publicity made cannabis, ecstasy or even heroin seem any less cool?

  • Will Drinkers be Next?

    It is reported that smokers are increasingly being discriminated against in recruitment, with over a third of job advertisements mentioning a smoke-free workplace, and an increasing number specifically asking for non-smokers. How long will it be before it is commonplace for recruiters to seek to exclude anyone who drinks more than the ludicrously low official "safe" alcohol limits? All those who can't see the connection between the anti-smoking and the anti-drink campaigns should watch this space.

  • Soft Drink Prices Irrelevant to Drink-Driving

    A government report condemned pubs for charging excessive markups on soft drinks, which is alleged to be an incentive to drink-driving. As the BLRA were quick to point out, soft drinks are almost always cheaper than the equivalent quantities of beer. The drink-driving argument is a complete canard - in the real world nobody ever ends up going over the limit after drinking 1.60 pints of bitter because they thought 1.20 pints of Coke were too dear. See my "Opening Times" column of July 1998. And what business is it of government anyway to decide what mark-ups businesses should impose? I thought price controls were a thing of the past, and we were supposed to live in a deregulated world where prices were kept low by competition.

  • EU Plans Increase in Minimum Driving Age

    The European Union apparently wants to increase the minimum driving age in Britain from 17 to 18, to bring it in line with other European countries. I'm far too old to be personally concerned about this, and it would undoubtedly reduce road casualties. However, it sends a very negative message to young people, in the same way as the plan (now abandoned) to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases from 16 to 18. It could also encourage more under-18s to ride mopeds and scooters, which expose them to far more risk than cars.

  • Supermarkets to Slash Beer Range?

    The major supermarkets are reported to be planning a drastic reduction in the range of take-home beers stocked, concentrating on a limited selection of key brands. This may lead to the demise of secondary brands such as Skol, Harp and Kestrel. I can't say I'll shed any tears for those, and it will still be in supermarkets' interest to stock a good range of premium bottled beers for the discerning customer. The concern is that it will lead to further consolidation in the brewing industry and possibly damage regional brewers by excluding their standard ales from supermarket shelves.


October 1999

  • Pubs Give Way to McDonalds

    McDonalds have applied for planning permission to turn the Royal Oak on Altrincham Road, Baguley, South Manchester, into a drive-thru (sic) restaurant. The pub has been closed and boarded for six months. Big suburban pubs, particularly in less affluent areas, are rapidly becoming an endangered species. This pub had thousands of people within walking distance, and a frequent bus service past the door, so you can't entirely blame drink-driving crackdowns.

  • Subverting the Nanny State

    It is reported that free milk tokens provided for young children in poor families are being exchanged for alcohol and cigarettes on the black market. Obviously you can't approve of this, but you have to raise half a cheer for people finding another way to subvert the Nanny State.

  • Tobacco Ad Ban Delayed

    The government announces a delay in the implementation of the tobacco advertising ban, particularly covering direct mail promotions. Another case of "legislate in haste, repent at leisure"? And the ban was later further delayed by a successful High Court action by the tobacco manufacturers.


September 1999

  • Shebeens - Growth Area of the Drinks Trade

    Police find 70 drinkers in an unlicensed drinking club in a Moss Side house. The shebeen was equipped with its own bar and DJ booth and even had a food and drink price list. It apparently attracted drinkers from all over the North-West. I'd long suspected there was a growth in shebeens of this kind, and this is the evidence. Is it the other side of the coin of the decline in inner-city pubs? I wouldn't be surprised if they were springing up in rural areas as well.

  • Hoist by His Own Petard

    Paul Manning, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, proposes that the small degree of tolerance allowed in speeding cases (usually 10% plus 2 mph) should be removed. This is widely condemned by motoring organisations as unreasonable in theory and unworkable in practice. Manning is later tailed by a Sunday newspaper and clocked doing 43 in a 40 limit. There's nothing you can say about this - but it's interesting that a survey of police officers and magistrates revealed that 90% of them would exceed the 30 mph speed limit on a straight, clear road. And how many of the other 10% were lying?

  • Why Jail 90-Year-Olds?

    The one-year jail sentence imposed on 90-year-old Stanley Casson, convicted of causing the death by dangerous driving of a 76-year-old woman and her 6-year-old granddaughter, in Blackley, Manchester, is suspended on appeal. This is clearly a very sad case, but surely it is barbarous to send a man of this age to prison, and it should never even have been an option. And, given that there was no question of alcohol or speeding being involved, in what way was he guilty of "dangerous driving"? The charge should have been "driving without due care and attention". It's also interesting that, even if Pinochet was extradited to Spain and tried and convicted, he could not be jailed as Spain does not imprison the over-80s.


August 1999

  • Do We Have Too Many Police?

    Lincolnshire Police have set up a "booze bus" in which drivers who are below the legal limit are treated to a presentation on the dangers of drink-driving. Although they have committed no offence one of them was described as having "escaped with a caution". What's next - rehabilitation for people driving at 25 mph in 30 limits, or those who only got their tax returns in a few days before the deadline? Is there no-one in Lincolnshire actually breaking the law that the police might think it worth trying to catch? If they have time to do this sort of thing, it suggests we have too many police, not too few.

  • Dead Drunk

    The landlord and landlady of the Kingston Tavern in Buckland, Portsmouth were charged with manslaughter after the death of a 44-year-old man who had been drinking heavily in their pub. I have heard no more of what happened in this case - if they were convicted, it would set a worrying precedent for all licensees.

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