Brian Monteith: Drink to the news that booze is good for you

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As Christmas fast approaches I thought I would turn away from party politics this week and bring what I expect to be good news for most of my readers.

It’s a very simple piece of advice and it might make you feel a little bit better about yourself – especially if you are nursing a hangover from one too many following a party – drinking alcohol is good for you.

Now before people rush to condemn me for inciting alcoholism or yawn, mumbling “I always thought so” the reason I am telling you this is because a new research study 
provides the evidence to back the old wive’s tale up.

Researchers studied 1824 people over two decades and established that teetotallers died at twice the rate of moderate drinkers. Surprising? Well, not only are moderate drinkers the most likely to live longer but even heavy drinkers were found to be less at risk than teetotallers.

That’s right – in the order of risk being a moderate drinker is safest, a light drinker next safest, a heavy drinker next and a teetotalling abstainer the least safe.

Taking account of age and gender the evidence showed that “abstainers had a more than two times increased mortality risk, heavy drinkers had a 70 per cent increased risk and light drinkers had 23 per cent increased risk”.

Just to be sure of the findings, the researchers adjusted the statistics to allow for any alcoholics that had become abstainers and other factors that might distort the outcome – such as existing health problems – only to find that teetotallers were still in greatest danger at 51 per cent greater risk, with heavy drinkers at only 45 per cent.

This evidence must come as a sobering thought for abstainers – but for the fact that they are sober already.

It certainly is a slap in the face for all those po-faced people working in public health – mostly paid for by taxpayers who like a drink – that try to tell us how bad alcohol is for us and seek to control how much we drink.

The reason for this outcome is the protective effect that alcohol tends to give the heart – there have been copious studies, too many to list here, that show the reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease amongst people who consume alcohol.

Suffice to say that the good news about moderate alcohol consumption is not only generally known and accepted (but rarely reported) but has been officially pronounced. The scientific advisers to the European Office of the World Health Organisation said: “Drinking modest amounts of alcoholic beverages is likely to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

I’m not suggesting for a minute we should all go out and buy as much booze as possible and drink it in a great binge over Christmas and the New Year – I’m simply saying that the prohibitionists’ agenda of reducing our alcohol consumption to almost zero is not in the interests of public health.

Drinking in moderation is the enemy of the temperance zealots who insist that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption – what they are working towards is the argument that alcohol is a poison, that there is no safe level so we should all be encouraged to desist.

All those ideas about the number of units of alcohol we should stick to, the proposed 50p minimum price per alcoholic unit and higher excise duties are in fact likely to damage the nations’s health. The 50p unit price will in time be moved up faster than inflation to try to price people out of legal alcohol. What these controls do is line the pockets of the criminal classes that provide cheap, dodgy booze on the black market.

The commonplace sneering anti-alcohol snobbery of those that know better has so demonised having a glass of wine or a pint of ale at lunchtime that it encourages binge-
drinking, because by definition if you only drink at the weekend you are both literally and statistically likely to be classified as a binge drinker.

As we also know from experience, if the marginal rate of tax is lowered on beers, wines and spirits the tax revenues climb and more than cover the expected fall in tax income.

I therefore raise my glass to a new campaign that is encouraging the Government (and all parties) to recognise that our alcohol taxes are too high already. Thanks to the alcohol tax escalator – an automatic tax increase above the rate of inflation introduced by the previous government in 2008 – the tax on wine has increased by 50 per cent and on spirits by 44 per cent.

The Chancellor now takes more than three-quarters (79 per cent) of the average price of a bottle of spirits in duty and more than half (57 per cent) of a bottle of wine – in France it is only 20 per cent!

Would you believe that the UK’s alcohol prices are 43 per cent higher than the European Union average and that British alcohol taxes account for almost 40 per cent of all European alcohol tax revenues?

Rather than listen to the temperance lobby the Chancellor needs to recognise alcohol is good for us – and play the role of Santa.