Fun Police

Beware of the fun police

Back in June, the French president celebrated the victory in the changing room of the winning team of the domestic league rugby final by downing a bottle of beer in one go. Seventeen seconds is what it took Emmanuel Macron to empty the bottle, as the players cheered him on.

The controversy it sparked wasn’t merely over whether this was a heartfelt moment or a publicity stunt, but instead over the fact that Macron consumed alcohol. “He trivialises situations that encourage drinking”, Bernard Basset from Association Addictions France told BFMTV after the fact.

The vilification of alcohol is taking on increasing dimensions, as is the vilification of all the things that are considered “sins” or “vices”. Gambling, sugary drinks, smoking or vaping, fatty foods; there’s a long list of pleasures people engage in and an even longer one of people who seek to ban them. The people who say that they are concerned about “public health” are increasingly looking like the Temperance movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. Temperance activists also believed that smoking, drinking, and gambling were bad, even though their argument was instead from the standpoint of public morality, not public health. Their fallacy, however, is the same: the assumption that prohibition is a moral good because it protects the individual from him or herself. Where the Temperance lobby sought to bring about prohibition through moral panics, the public health lobby does the same by misrepresenting the facts.

Take the example of vaping. For many decades now, governments around the world have recognised the ill-effects of smoking, and explored different ways to help people quit. Often, it has done so through invasive restrictive policy-making. Smoking has become significantly more expensive through taxation, and because of bans it has virtually disappeared in public indoor settings. Despite a significant decrease in smoking rates, regulators and legislators are trying to squash the holdouts, as 20% of adults in the European Union continue to smoke.

Alternative nicotine delivery devices – such as e-cigarettes or heat-not-burn devices – have not just been proven to be significantly safer than cigarettes but also to be effective smoking cessation tools. Tobacco users are quitting the habit in high numbers because of vaping, and yet there are activist elements that seek the government to treat vaping, the harm reduction tool, in the exact same way it does tobacco. That is not just because they are ignorant of science but because they’re not there to reduce harm but to eliminate every available vice. Much like the Temperance movement, or the people who hold on to the idea of keeping cannabis illegal, their unofficial tagline is Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No”.

This modern prohibitionism, or neo-prohibitionism, is prolific and influential. For all their talk about Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol, Big Gambling, it appears that those industries hold very little power compared to public health campaigners. The facts speak for themselves: year after year, accessing these simple enjoyments of life becomes more difficult. Countries either make them more expensive and less accessible, ban their advertising or restrict their sales times. Suppose European governments were, in fact, beholden to those big industries. In that case, we’d see a very different landscape – but instead of an episode of Mad Men, we’re looking at increasingly puritanical policy-making.

The UK government is now pondering a generation ban for tobacco, meaning everyone born after the 1st of January 2009 would not be legally allowed to acquire any tobacco products. In essence, that means that the UK is implementing prohibition – a policy that has failed and continues to fail consistently. Whether it’s alcohol prohibition in the United States in the 1920s or cigarette prohibition in Bhutan in 2020, banning these products outright boosts the black market. Illicit product and service providers of alcohol, cigarettes, gambling etc. don’t care for quality controls or age restrictions and fund other criminal operations with their sales.

The frustrating thing about the debate about prohibition is that its negative consequences are not remotely unknown. We know that alcohol prohibition created the mafia boss Al Capone. We know that perpetrators of international terrorism generate cash flow through illicit tobacco trade. Most importantly, we know that the war on drugs, such as cannabis, was counterproductive and imprisoned millions of non-violent offenders for countless years. Why would we try to follow a model that is objectively ill-advised when we could instead introduce the notion of responsible use, harm reduction, and individual responsibility?

The fun police, the neo-prohibitionists, the nanny staters, whatever we want to call them, have an agenda of making prohibition socially acceptable once again. Much like any police that oversteps its authority, we should stop them.

Originally published here

Unmasking the Fun Police

A lot has already been discussed regarding the Centre for Substance Use and Addiction’s (CCSA) report that recommends drastic changes to health guidelines for alcohol.1 Experts from the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research (ISFAR) called it “a pseudo-scientific amalgamation of selected studies of low scientific validity that fit their preconceived notions,” and more recently 16 prominent Quebec-based harm reduction experts, professors, and researchers have stated that the CCSA’s report misleads consumers with statements like “even in small doses, alcohol has consequences for everyone.”

But beyond the criticism the CCSA has received from those who work in the field of alcohol research, there is a once-murky link between the researchers who regularly push for neo-temperance policy change and international temperance organizations like Movendi.

Movendi is an international temperance group that preaches a zero-consumption approach to alcohol. Movendi was founded in the 1800s under the name “The Order of Good Templars,” but rebranded itself in 2020, possibly because their previous name sounded like it was from a Dan Brown novel. 

Funny enough, Movendi funds its neo-temperance lobbying around the world by running a lottery in Sweden. Now, there is nothing morally wrong with running a lottery, or gambling for that matter, but running a lottery that has been sued by Sweden’s Consumer Agency for using misleading marketing tactics and defrauding consumers is certainly suspect and worthy of criticism. Not to mention the fact that they fund their puritanical war on one “sin” with the profits of another. 

Movendi is important in the conversation about alcohol policy internationally, because they officially partner with the World Health Organization, but also domestically, because their affiliate researchers are the actual authors of the CCSA report that has faced so much criticism. 

Yes, the authors of the CCSA’s report on alcohol, which was funded by your tax dollars via Health Canada, are openly affiliated with an international anti-alcohol organization whose main goal is creating an alcohol-free future.

How do we know this? Well, the authors of the CCSA report, Tim Stockwell, Timothy Naimi, and Adam Sherk, have open ties to Movendi that are clear for anyone to see. For example, just two days after the CCSA report was published, an interactive summary of the report was published on Movendi’s website, authored by the same set of authors. 

In fact, these CSSA researchers cite on their own conflict of interest page that they are affiliated with Movendi International. And while their disclosure states that they are volunteer members with Movendi, according to the disclosures, they have travelled on Movendi’s dime to Movendi events in Sweden, and are featured on the Movendi podcast, dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of alcohol. 

And just how strident are these anti-alcohol lobbyists and the organization they are tied to? Well, again according to Movendi’s own website, their members take a pledge stating that they “are required to lead a life free from the use of alcohol and other intoxicating drugs”.

Now, there is nothing wrong with choosing to abstain from alcohol and other intoxicating drugs. To each their own. But taking one’s personal view and masquerading it as scientific, at taxpayers’ expense, and in turn lobbying the federal government for policy change, is another thing. Did taxpayers ask for their money to be used to fund anti-alcohol lobbying? Certainly not.

Imagine if the Government of Canada commissioned a study on the appropriate level of meat consumption, and it was discovered that the authors of the study, after coming to what is obviously a pre-drawn conclusion, are strident vegans affiliated with anti-meat organizations like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)? Outrage would understandably follow, and the findings would be cast off as nothing more than ideologically driven pseudoscience. 

Well, the good news for Canadians who drink is that despite the headlines about the CCSA’s report, it would appear the federal government is approaching the report and the CCSA’s fuzzy accounting with caution. As of right now, Canada’s low-risk guidelines remain at two drinks per day for women, and three drinks for men per day—as they should be, given the very smallchanges in absolute health risk that exist at this level of consumption. 

At the end of the day, these anti-alcohol activists are just people who want to tax, forbid, and regulate as much of your lives as they can. They are nothing more than the Fun Police.  

Originally published here

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