It's only fair to share…

For the record, I enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner and have enjoyed a glass at social functions. It is even the case that through the course of my existence, I have, on a few (genuinely a few) occasions had a glass or so more than was necessarily ideal. Other people enjoy a glass of gin, or beer or whiskey. The vast majority of people do so without coming to any harm.

Enjoyment of life is good for our health, especially in these times where many are under stress.

It is certainly also true that a percentage of people drink in a way that causes harm to themselves and to others. Whilst most violence is fuelled by methamphetamine, drunks can throw punches, even if most of them miss. In domestic situations, alcohol can be a real driver of violence, especially the throwing of objects. Driving drunk obviously causes harm.

Excessive alcohol consumption over time is a cause of considerable disease burden including cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage and a number of cancers.

The key is quantity. Here is an analogy. A fire on the stove can cook your food but if out of control, could burn your house down. Fire is not intrinsically bad nor need it be totally avoided. Alcohol is similar. It is not intrinsically good or bad. It is certainly the case that we can live without it, but for those who enjoy a drink, there is absolutely no need to be tea-total.

Statistics show that per capita consumption in Australia has fallen over the last 40 years. In general, we are drinking better quality and less quantity. Various initiatives like Feb-fast and dry July have encouraged people to question how much they drink and have a spell from drinking and donate money to charity.

Liquor chain BWS are supporting the Dry July charity this year and have done it in a clever way. The initials instead of standing for (as usual) beer wine and spirits have changed for the month to “because we’re sober.” On the surface one might ask why would they do this? In my view it makes eminent sense for them to support a cause and charity that helps those who use the product it sells irresponsibly. It is also a great way for the charity to be in front of the very people who could benefit from a dry spell.

Does this mean the store wants to stop selling alcohol? Of course not. But it is entirely consistent with a corporate ethos which encourages sensible consumption.

A better match would be hard to find.

Alas the zealots in big public health find this a “shocking and ill-conceived stunt”. According to the 6 minutesmedical website a group called Foundation for alcohol research and education (FARE) want the arrangement terminated. It has written to benefit charities urging them to pressure Dry July to cease the partnership with BWS.

“It is inappropriate to have one group that sells cancer-causing alcoholic beverages 365 days a year partnering with the other group that fundraises to support the victims of alcohol harm,” says chief executive (of FARE) Michael Thorn. He added that it was “abhorrent” that BWS claimed to care about people affected by cancer.

Memo Mr Thorn – it is not abhorrent that a business cares about those who choose to misuse a product it sells. Would it be “abhorrent” for a hardware store to raise money for bushfire victims despite selling matches?

FARE began its existence in 2001 with $115 million of taxpayer’s dollars. Its ongoing revenue (according to the 2017/18 annual report) is from taxpayers and investment income with a very small amount from donations. Despite being not for profit, the books show a surplus of revenue over expenses, which is a profit except it does not get paid to shareholders.

The attitude of FARE is that of a modern day temperance league, not a research and education group. Based on the public quotes, they make no differentiation between amounts of consumption and allow for no nuance. Their position assumes every customer is going to get cancer and that nobody can purchase responsibly. It also assumes that the company has no interest in its customers’ remaining well.

Can one be any holier than thou?

Its website says it is wanting to stop harm from alcohol. This is not the same as being against any consumption and any purveyors.

It is little wonder we are increasingly switching off to the shrill moralistic attitudes of “big public health.”

In a piece, the same week Robert  Forsythe wrote that the call to avoid harm is getting out of hand. He writes “Today saying something is harmful is increasingly the one-stop shop to attempt to criticise and shut down…”.

This is exactly the game FARE is playing in seeking to shut down a shop selling liquor supporting a charity relevant to its products.

Here is the bottom line. How people use any legal product is up to them. It is not the fault of the vendor. Stores selling liquor have no commercial interest in their customers getting sick and dying. They have an interest in return business. And, as is increasingly the case, an interest in corporate social responsibility.

What better way to do this than by supporting the responsible use of products it sells and supporting those who, for whatever reason, may have used the products in excess.

But this clearly does not satisfy the modern day temperance league.