Browse > Home / health, pseudo science, Spin / Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists

| Subcribe via RSS



Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists

February 23rd, 2012 Posted in health, pseudo science, Spin by

As someone familiar with cutting edge science and those who work at the frontiers of medical research, I have always been struck by the backward totalitarian nature of public health. In a world in which hard science and enlightened medical opinion is positively buzzing about personalized medicine and the benefits of treating people as individuals, public health continues to push ideas that are more in keeping with early 20th century totalitarian doctrine then 21st century medicine.

ASH is of course one of the biggest culprits. Completely closed to the concept of constructive debate it spreads its misery through quasi-religious adherence to strict dogma and increasingly ridiculous attempts to claim that all opposition to its policies are the result of tobacco industry conspiracies. The similarities between the rhetoric of ASH and the propaganda of the former Soviet Union is quite uncanny at times but as far as I know, ASH has never actually advocated Soviet policies. I am sure that its employees would do if it suited the cause and involved more free money from the taxpayer but the opportunity seems not to have arisen.

However, the same can no longer be said for their cousins in the neo-prohibitionist movement who are now openly advocating that the UK government take its lead on alcohol policy from the Soviet Union. In an academically inept, blatantly political piece published in The Lancet, a group of liver doctors who in their conceit, believe themselves experts on the causes of alcohol abuse rather than its consequences, propose Gorbachev’s 1985 crackdown on alcohol in the Soviet Union as a template for alcohol control in the UK.

The Lancet article is a rework of last year’s effort in which the authors made the embarrassingly simplistic claim that the decline in French liver deaths was down to an alcohol advertising ban. Both were uncritically covered by the BBC whose representatives have assured me that they have no bias when it comes to public health despite the fact that they showcase minimum price campaigners however obscure on what feels like a daily basis.

This year Gilmore et al wax lyrical about Soviet Russia and how it achieved a 12% reduction in alcohol related mortality in just two years. The implication being that our government would see similar results if only it would do what the neo-prohibitionists ask of it. Minimum pricing is of course at the top of their list because  such a policy, although likely to be utterly ineffective in the form currently advocated, will give them a powerful lever with which to control the proletariat as they ratchet up future campaigns.

History sees Gorbachev as a heroic reformer in many senses, but he had no qualms in using the full power vested in him as an autocratic dictator to press home an aggressive anti-alcohol policy. Measures included:

  • Closing  vodka distilleries
  • Destroying  vineyards in the wine-producing republics of Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia
  • Restricting the times during which shops and restaurants could sell alcohol
  • Banning restaurants from selling hard liquor
  • Raising the legal age for alcohol consumption from 18 to 21
  • Effectively increasing prices by over 75%
  • Creating a state sponsored temperance society that grew to 14 million members

His policies were as our neo-prohibitionist friends tell us immediately successful and he achieved a short term significant fall in alcohol related deaths. The price of vodka rose by 25% in 1985 alone and by a similar amount in the following year. The Lancet article unsurprisingly fails to mention the longer term consequences of the campaign.

Although Gorbachev did theoretically reduce legal alcohol consumption by 50% according to some estimates, the Russians have a long tradition of distilling their own firewater known as Samogon. The state crackdown:

  • Stimulated the illegal alcohol industry
  • Galvanized organized crime to take advantage of a burgeoning black market
  • Led to an increase in deaths from poisoning caused by illicit alcohol.

By the third year of the campaign, despite severe custodial sentences being in force for home brewing, illegal Samogon was being consumed in larger volumes than legal alcohol, the policy was hugely unpopular, it was costing the government a fortune in lost revenue and it had significantly benefited organized crime. It was abandoned in October 1988.

The fall in alcohol related deaths seen in the early days of the campaign was rapidly reversed and increased above pre-legislation levels to peak in 1994.

Some will argue that had the Soviet Union persisted with its vigorous campaign, the fall in deaths during the first 18 months would have continued and the end would have justified all of the repression. So it is worth pointing out, bearing in mind the UK activist’s obsession with price, that the increase in alcohol related deaths in the early 90s took place against a background of high prices for legal alcohol that was a legacy of the Gorbachev campaign. Although some aspects of the campaign were reversed, the price stayed 75% above 1985 levels during the Russian mortality crisis of the early 90s.

Others, including some who claim to be liberal, will of course assert that the Soviets did not go far enough. Perhaps they never thought of putting vodka in olive drab bottles with massive pictures of diseased livers on them? You can be sure that Ian Gilmore has.

By Chris Oakley. Chris has previously posted on Liberal Vision:  Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, A Liberal Tolerant nation? and  What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes the plaything of political lobbyists.

Our thanks to englishrussia.com for the poster.

8 Responses to “Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists”

  1. Mr A Says:

    I’ve just heard one of the prohibitionists on the BBC (naturally) saying that the new measures which ban the sale of alcohol at less than cost price will be ineffective as only 2% of booze in the shops is sold in such a way. The solution was of course minimum pricing per unit.

    She (and the Beeboid interviewing her) seemed oblivious to the fact that this somewhat rubbished the prohibitionist’s previous claims that lakes of the stuff were being sold at below cost price, which is why the measure was brought in in the first place.

    Any reasonable person would say, “Oh look! It only affects 2% of promotions! Maybe this wasn’t a problem, after all.” But of course in the world of public health, the lack of a problem only means one thing – further prohibition and even more draconian measures.

    When will our bovine MPs wake up to these people?


  2. Psi Says:

    In other news on the BBC they are covering real scientists at Cern who are testing and retesting their findings.

    Is is a shame the Beeb doesn’t seem to see the big discrepancy between the “hard” scientists in physiscs, their focus on evidence to draw conclusions from and the phony scientists who engage in ex post facto rationalisation.


  3. Paul McKeown Says:

    Errrr

    - Closing vodka distilleries
    - Destroying vineyards
    - Restricting the times during which shops and restaurants could sell alcohol
    - Banning restaurants from selling hard liquor
    - Raising the legal age for alcohol consumption from 18 to 21
    - Effectively increasing prices by over 75%
    - Creating a state sponsored temperance society

    I AM SHOCKED! I wasn’t aware at all that the UK Government was proposing any of these measures.

    Oh, it wasn’t. The comparison with any initiative of the former Soviet Government was in fact a rather pathetic and over-blown and shrill.

    It is common knowledge that selling below cost price is one way in which mono(oligo)polistic sellers can attempt to drive smaller competitors out of a market. Preventing that from happening is a market intervention that anyone who supports free market should support, not oppose. That such an intervention is likely to reduce harm and improve health in certain groups of problem drinkers is to be supported.

    If you think that this marginal increase in pricing at the bottom end of the alcohol market is going to dramatically increase bootlegging in the UK, then I would advise an immediate reality transplant.


  4. Smoking Hot Says:

    Yawn! does anyone really think anything will stop these idiots and the morons in HOC putting this through?

    ln the meantime l just brought back a case of JD from Belgium at £19.50 a litre. Happy Days


  5. Chris Oakley Says:

    @ Paul McKeown
    It didn’t make the “pathetic and over-blown and shrill” comparison with the former Soviet Union. It was Ian Gilmore and his co-authors who used the Soviet campaign as an example of successful anti-alcohol policy in their Lancet paper. I simply researched what it actually entailed and what its longer term consequences were as I think that is in the public interest. I agree that it is a bit odd to apparently campaign for a modest minimum price for alcohol using a totalitarian crack down as your example but we are talking about a pressure group that has repeatedly misled the public on other matters.

    I did not defend below cost selling. It is not the same as minimum pricing.


  6. Junican Says:

    McKeown:

    “That such an intervention is likely to reduce harm and improve health in certain groups of problem drinkers is to be supported”

    No, Paul, No. The move from the particular to the general is a ploy used again and again by prohibitionists. “Improving the health of certain groups of problem drinks” requires help (not force) directed specifically to those people. Their problems are in no way justification of penalties aimed at the general population.


  7. Jonathan Bagley Says:

    “If you think that this marginal increase in pricing at the bottom end of the alcohol market is going to dramatically increase bootlegging in the UK, then I would advise an immediate reality transplant.”

    Depends what you mean by marginal. If the price of a bottle of wine is raised from £3.49 to £4.69 by applying a 50p minimum, ther will be a massive increase in both purchasing abroad and home wine making – much of for illegal selling to friends and neighbours. It takes one hour a week to make 30 bottles of wine from a kit. The cost is around £1.20 a bottle.And look to Sweden and Finland to learn about home distilling.


  8. Michael J. McFadden Says:

    Paul McKeown, I’d agree that of the policies enumerated under the Soviets we haven’t really seen them applied in a great way *YET* to alcohol, but look to the future.

    PLUS… try taking another look at those policies and substituting SMOKING control efforts over the last dozen years or so. You WILL find, partly in the UK/Euro and partly in America:

    - Efforts to Close cigarette manufacturers (mainly smaller ones by various economic/regulatory/tax efforts — New York is just a few steps short of all out war with the Native Americans over this.)

    - Destroying and buying out farmland for other crops of a good bit of US world-renowned tobacco fields

    - Banning use of cigarettes in shops, restaurants, and even bars and private clubs

    - Virtually eliminating vending machines and sales of cigarettes in pharmacies and some other common outlets.

    - Enactment and strict enforcement with secret agent stings of a universal 18 years old tobacco purchase age in the US by illegally “blackmailing” individual states (a loophole in our Constitution also used for alcohol control) with the threat of withholding federal monies. Quieter, but active, moves to raise the purchase age to 19, 20, and 21.

    - Effectively increasing prices by over 75% (75%? Heh, smokers could only WISH for that. Try 100%, 200%, 300% or more depending on how you smoke and what State you’re purchasing in.

    - Creating a state sponsored temperance society (UK has ASH, the US has dozens/hundreds of Master Settlement Smokers’ Tax Funded antismoking organizations pushing for bans and restrictions that have extended from mass transit and elevators into private homes and on public beaches and parklands.

    People sat back and did nothing while “The Man” knocked on the door of the nasty smokers … and now the drawbridge is down and the paths have been charted. The question is whether there’s still enough time for people to wake up and beat back the invading hordes.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”


Leave a Reply



  • RSS Elsewhere on Lib Dem Blogs…