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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

And then they came for the drinkers...

Yes, drinkers, they're coming for you now. You really should be aware of this by now, but then you really should have been aware of it long ago when the intolerance was directed at tobacco and the sound of marching boots wasn't something for you to fear. Ah, those were the days, eh? And you helped, didn't you?

Yes, you did.

Yes, you did - you're just kidding yourself. You said you'd enjoy the pub more if it was smoke free, though of course not that much more because you didn't spend enough to make up for what the smokers used to spend before they stopped going and now it's shut. You said it would be lovely to be able to go out and enjoy a glass of wine without some filthy smoker's pollution wafting over you, possibly inhaling the carcinogens from a roaring fire in the corner or even a candle on your table instead.* Oh, not all of you said so but quite a lot did, and many more of you just stayed silent and raised no objection, happy that it was someone else getting it and not you.

Remember when they weren't allowed to advertise on TV, and then not in print media either, and finally weren't even allowed to sponsor sport? Did you all object? Did you say it was unfair? Did you stand by the smokers then?

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist

Remember when they weren't allowed to put cigarette cards and other collectibles in the packets? What did you say? Did you oppose it? Did argue that it was unnecessary?

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist

Remember when tax on tobacco went up and up and up and up, and carried on going up ever since? Did you say that it was excessive? Did you point out that it would hurt British retailers as people bought abroad? Did you add that it would increase smuggling? Or did you go on your way, happy once again that it wasn't your vice that was being hammered?

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew

Remember when the health warnings came in? How they began as information about tar and nicotine content? How they then became larger and included phrases like "Smoking can damage your health"? How they grew larger still to make room for a variety of longer warnings, and then moved from the sides to the front of the packets? Remember how once on the front they grew rapidly so as to include nasty pictures of various illnesses and conditions that were implied to have been caused by that person smoking? And how the people selling tobacco were then made to hide the stock in drawers and behind closed doors, as if it was somehow possible to become addicted to smoking by looking at the packets? And how they're now saying that even that's not enough and these hidden packets must be absolutely plain? Except for the health warnings and horror pictures, of course, which are to grow even bigger than ever. Did you say "Stop"? Did you say "Enough"? Did you say "You've done enough, now leave the smokers alone"? Did you raise even a peep of complaint?

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out.

No, you did not. By and large, at best you drinkers kept your silence, which was of course taken for acquiescence, and at worst you joined in the intolerance and marginalising of smokers. Many of you still do, and more fool them. Collectively you did nothing or nearly nothing to help the smokers, and as you reaped so you are beginning to sow.
Red wine's reputation for preventing heart attacks has come under fire from health experts who have declared every drink of alcohol can do you damage.
This should come as no surprise since it's by no means the first time recently that the temperance crowd, the latest gaggle of nannying, neo-puritan wowsers (employing many of the same techniques and occasionally even some of the same people as the tobacco control mob), have pushed the idea that there is no safe level of alcohol.
The coalition cites other studies from around the world finding that the harms from alcohol are likely to outweigh any benefits. ''Every drinking occasion contributes to the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol,'' the report says. Any reduction in alcohol consumption would reduce the lifetime risk of alcohol-related harm.
Does this sound at all familiar to you, drinkers? Does it sound at all like "Every cigarette is doing you harm"? It certainly should do as the message is identical - only the target has changed, drinkers, and the target now is you.

Actually you've been the new target for some years. Did you realise? Were you even aware that the nannies and wowsers were so confident of their victory that they swung the sights around to point your way even as they were still bullying smokers with your assent, if not your vociferous and active support? Did you know?

The smokers knew. You might think it somewhat surprising for people who sit all day in clouds of smoke emitted from something out of a packet covered in health warnings about it sending them blind, but the smokers saw it with crystal clarity. Mind you, it had been done to them so they were sure to recognise it, but I think they're puzzled, drinkers. They've been shouting warnings at you and you've been just sitting there. "They're doing to you what they have done to us", the smokers are shouting, and have been shouting for quite some time. Yet you don't seem to have heard. Is it because the nannies and wowsers persuaded you to push the smokers away out of earshot, or does alcohol damage your hearing?

Oh, I'm so sorry, there'll probably be a health warning to that effect now. Oh yes, there probably will. Tax on alcohol has been going up and up, and will continue to go up and up, and of course there have been labels on the bottles with the alcohol content for quite a while. And you sucked it up and accepted it, possibly in part because you could see that the smokers were getting a worse time of it. But all those other things I mentioned before are happening to you as well now, drinkers. Look at the examples. Look at the dates. This has been going on around you for years.

Seven years ago.
Two and a half years ago
Proposed
Already in use today
Do you see it? The calls for restrictions on advertising and minimum pricing, the health warnings that have already begun to appear on the labels and the proposals to make them bigger, and not least this new message that it's bad for you even in the smallest quantities and any positive benefit you thought it may have had... well you were wrong, d'you hear? Wrong! It was all a big fat lie, probably invented by a man with a vineyard or a brewery or something.

Is any of this ringing bells with you, drinkers? Can you see the pattern being repeated? "De-normalising alcohol"? Oh, yes, that particular chicken came home to roost earlier this year. Even the concept of passive drinking has been put forward (about five years ago - did you notice, drinkers?), to a large burst of bitter laughter from the smokers, I have to tell you. It dealt them a nasty blow and it's going to do the same to you, drinkers.

Now I hope this has served to get your attention, drinkers, because now I come to the point where I tell you some bad news, some good news and some bad news. The first bad news should be obvious: the same process that has been used with such success on the smokers is now well under way on you, and if you are persist in blinding yourselves to this fact then your liberty to enjoy an alcoholic drink in peace may be beyond saving, at least in the near future. The good news is that there are rather more of you than there are smokers and so you can put up more of a united front. But the other bad news is that this might well be insufficient since the wowsers have the ear of government and government really doesn't care much about you either. If it can do the same thing it did to the smokers, tax the hell out of them at the same time as making their lives miserable, then you can be certain it will. You need reinforcements, other voices to stand up for you. People who are not primarily drinkers. People who can see and understand what is being done to you and what is going to happen next.

People like the smokers, you might be thinking.

But I'm afraid I also have to tell you that some of the smokers think you fucking deserve it. You stood by and did nothing, not a damned thing, to help them when they were getting it in the neck, and now it's your turn some smokers are less than sympathetic. Many of them enjoy a glass or two and can be counted on to fight against the booze wowsers just as they did the smoke wowsers, but of course some smokers don't drink and can't see why they should lift a goddamn finger. Even now you can browse the comments sections of many an online article about smoking and find such bile and venom directed at smokers that Dick Puddlecote has begun to collect it (coincidentally, as I write this he's also got another piece up about passive drinking, just in case anybody thought that one from 2006 was a one off) and you can be certain that the overwhelming majority of the people who've spat such hate are fellow drinkers. Why, many smokers will ask, should they care when you still hate them? Even some who drink will ask why, when they're now making their own arrangements with Leg-ironian smoky-drinkies and soon home brewed drink and home grown baccy as well, they should give the remotest shit?

So who are you going to ask instead? What voice is going to speak up and object to the de-normalisation of alcohol? Me? Not my problem, fellas - I don't drink. But good luck with it, even though I might add that it really annoys me when some bloody drunk yaks all over the pavement or some slightly tipsy yahoo gets a bit loud in a restaurant. Nah, I think I'll let you get on with it while I finish my cheeseburger. Eh? What do you mean it'll be my turn next if I don't stand with you and help now?

Which is true, of course, and has been my point all along. But did you ever think of that when you were watching the smokers get a shoeing? Did you ever consider that they occupied the buffer zone between you and the nannying wowsers? No, you didn't, and many of you still don't. But now you're occupying the buffer zone between me and the wowsers, so of course I'll speak out for drinkers even though I don't drink.

But if you want the best chance of being able to drink in peace I'd mend some fences with the smokers if I were you, and I'd do it pretty damn sharpish.


* H/T Narco Polo (refs 1 and 3)
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