Fisking the Herald editorial

August 24th, 2012 at 11:10 am by David Farrar

This may be the most ignorant fact challenged Herald editorial yet.

It says much for the burgeoning market for ready-to-drink alcopops that the liquor industry reacted so urgently to a threat to their popularity. A Government proposal to ban off-licence stores from selling alcopops with more than 6 per cent content had industry heavyweights beating a path to Justice Minister Judith Collins’ door. 

If the Government proposed to ban something, of course companies will resist that, especially when the ban would actually increase harmful drinking?

The fruits of their labour became obvious this week when for no good reason the Government backed down on its plan …

No good reasons, means the Herald doesn’t think readers deserve to hear the other side of the argument. That prohibition was not going to work, was unenforceable, and substitution was highly likely to increase harm from alcohol. Now you can debate those propositions, but the Herald decides they do not exist and their readers don’t need to be informed of them.

The Government had planned a tough line on alcopops because they are particularly harmful. Sweet-tasting, cheap and with a typical alcohol content of 8 to 10 per cent – twice that of most beers

This is such a stupid comparison – and one taken as a quote from certain lobby groups. Wine is three times the strength of most beers. Baileys is four times the strength. Spirits are eight times the strength. Absinthe is around 12 times the strength.

Beer is not what many RTD drinkers would substitute to. It is wine and self-mixed spirits – which are av average 13%.

they have become the favoured drink of many young women

Yes, and most young women don’t substitute to beer – they substitute to wine. Also young women tend to drink the 5% , not the 8% . The proposed ban would have not impacted them greatly. It would have impacted the older males who like their Woodstocks.

The Government’s original plan, incorporated in the Alcohol Reform Bill, was based on the belief that a mandatory lower alcohol level would persuade many drinkers to abandon alcopops and reduce their overall consumption of liquor.

Yes, many would abandon alcopops. But to think they would abandon liquor is about as sensible a belief as Scientology. There is empirical evidence from Australia that spirits consumption went up, as RTDs were singled out for tax increase. Does the Herald not believe in evidence based decision making? Surely the Herald thinks the Government should commission research on what should happen if they banned RTDs over 5% rather than merely make decisions based on a “belief”?

I’ve stated previously Curia did a stack of research on this issue for Independent Liquor NZ. Now some may say well you can’t trust it, because of whom commissioned it. Now I in no way accept that – but my response to that was always to plead that the Government through the Ministry of Health or Justice should go away and commission its own research amongst drinkers of RTDs as to what they would do if RTDs over 5% were banned. I am very confident they would get the same conclusions – there would be significant substitution to even higher alcohol products.

It also casts an even greater focus on the difference in approach to the liquor and tobacco industries. The tobacco giants have been under unrelenting assault, including, most recently, a ban on retail displays and a plan to follow Australia’s lead and introduce plain packaging. The comparison with the content and snail’s pace of alcohol reform could not be starker.

That is because tobacco, taken in moderation, still kills you. Alcohol does not. If you drink too much coke, it will kill you. Too much water will kill you. It is the abuse of alcohol that is the problem – not alcohol per se. With tobacco, it is entirely different.

The Law Commission will forever remain perplexed that several of its key recommendations after a painstaking inquiry, notably on minimum pricing and an increased excise tax, have not been included in the Alcohol Reform Bill. The Government’s timidity can only have encouraged the liquor industry to think it could take the sting out of a perfectly reasonable attempt to limit the damage caused by alcopops. 

In a final act of confusion the editorial wails that the Law Commission recommendations have not all been agreed to by the Government – yet doesn’t see fit to mention that Law Commission did not recommend the 5% limit on RTDs. To the contrary, it cited evidence that substitution would occur and said the focus should be on alcohol as a whole  not just a particular type of product (unless unsafe).

And the attempt was not reasonable. It was an attempt that was likely to actually increase harm, or even deaths, from alcohol. An 1125 bottle of vodka is far far more dangerous than a six pack or even a dozen RTDs. By the end of the night, people often self-mix at 50/50 which is over 20% alcohol – and sometimes you even up drinking spirits straight at 40% alcohol. It was ridicolous to try and target a 6% or 7% or 8% drink, which might push people onto drinking 13%, 20% or even 40% strengths drinks. And if you think that would not have happened, then I suggest you actually go out and talk to some young drinkers.

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29 Responses to “Fisking the Herald editorial”

  1. Mike Readman (353 comments) says:

    I like drinking Bacardi 151 straight. Good times!

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  2. Paulus (2,712 comments) says:

    Typical Herald stupidity – nothing better to do as cannot report anything intelligent on a Friday (or most anyday).
    Next week they will come out and support the Government’s move – they are good at shouting against something and contradicting it later.
    Getting more like the soon to be defunct Sunday Pravda Star Times.

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  3. Lee C (2,720 comments) says:

    “That is because tobacco, taken in moderation, still kills you. Alcohol does not. . . . It is the abuse of alcohol that is the problem, not alcohol per se – with tobacco it is entirely different”

    Holy mackarel! If this is what alcohol does to ones’ logical abilities -It would be a powerful argument to ban said substance outright.

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  4. bringbackdemocracy (429 comments) says:

    The Government does appear to be in the pocket of the liquor industry.
    Follow the money.

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  5. b1gdaddynz (279 comments) says:

    Mike – I have twin 18 year olds and I got sick of them raiding my top shelf so I put a bit of the bacardi 151 in a vodka bottle;they didn’t like it it for some reason and haven’t raided it since :-)

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  6. Lance (2,719 comments) says:

    @bringbackdemocracy

    Any chance of some facts to back up the shit you just made up?

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  7. Grendel (1,013 comments) says:

    i used to serve shots of 151 with a bucket. punters would often try and refuse it saying they did not need it. my reply was it was for me and not them. becuase after they puked (at least half of them) the bucket saved my staff a really gross clean up job.

    Flaming lamborghinis came with a bucket as well, so did gas chambers for girls (only girls puked on gas chambers for some reason).

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  8. flipper (4,332 comments) says:

    Stuff the RTDs.
    Let’s head straight to Whisky Sours, Old Fashioneds and Bourbon with branch water.
    Better yet …. single malts then into the really top shelf stuff!

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  9. redeye (633 comments) says:

    David should volunteer to spend a Saturday night in the emergency dept. of Wellington Hospita for a dose of reality.

    [DPF: Very happy to do so. I went to uni with the head of emergency training. Now did you read the bit about how young drinkers would substitute from RTDs to spirits, and more of them end up in the ED? How about you try engaging on the issues, rather than suggesting I am not concerned about harm from alcohol?]

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  10. La Grand Fromage (145 comments) says:

    RTD’s have to go. Not from a alcoholic harm point of view but from a cultural social issue.

    The Minister of arts and culture needs to wade into this one. RTD’s are for Bogans. Quite frankly I would prefer to see NZ’s young ladies tucking into a nice Riesling or a hefty Gin and Tonic even if they are a bit stronger than the lolly water they are currently consuming.

    Perhaps if they don’t drink bogan juice they might not behave like bogans.

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  11. thedavincimode (6,890 comments) says:

    One of the reasons for declining social standards is the perpetuation of the “westie” sub-culture through the advertising and consumption of RTDs. The whole “crack a Woodie” strapline with its less than subtle and rather unsophisticated double entendre normalises the outcomes of it’s consumption. It becomes acceptable for some dickhead wearing black jeans and a black T shirt, the mullet, shit pinned through his face and the tatoos: “West is Best” and “Look at me, I’ve got a big cock” imprinted across his arse, to have a shit in a shop doorway at 11pm while his mates stand around laughing. Similarly, it’s OK for the slapper with the jeans, black T shirt and the DPB guts poking out between, the long greasy hair, the shit stapled through her face and “If you’re reading this make it a good root” tatooed across her arse, to be the grateful recipient of a gangbang in the same shop doorway whilst surrounded by a sea of empty “Woody” cans.

    The consumption has nothing to do with any any perceived quality in the product consumed its all about getting pissed. Perhaps we should start teaching wine appreciation at school. I would far rather see the slapper passed out with a couple of empty bottles of $150 Chablis, than a dozen RTD empties. At least then, if my theory about cultural identification is correct, she might be better dressed and she might hold the gangbang indoors.

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  12. BeaB (2,165 comments) says:

    Gosh what a lot of prejudices, fears and myths are tied up in one little sweet drink!

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  13. Nookin (3,575 comments) says:

    You on the right thread, BeaB?

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  14. Weihana (4,621 comments) says:

    redeye (501) Says:
    August 24th, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    David should volunteer to spend a Saturday night in the emergency dept. of Wellington Hospita for a dose of reality.

    So everyone is to be judged by the lowest common denominator?

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  15. simonway (387 comments) says:

    David should volunteer to spend a Saturday night in the emergency dept. of Wellington Hospita for a dose of reality.

    I self-mix drinks, and David is right when he talks about people ending up drinking straight spirits by the end of the night. I do it all the time.

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  16. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,705 comments) says:

    What do you expect from a gutter tabloid?

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  17. Spoon (104 comments) says:

    Having been “young” a lot more recently than most of you, I can attest that DPF is probably right. I didn’t really enjoy beer (have matured now though!) and wasn’t a wine fan, so mostly drunk spirits.

    In a night I might’ve had a box of Cody’s – 12x250ml @ 8%, 1.6 drinks per can, or 19.2 drinks. I also liked the 12% ones – conveniently two 4 packs at 12% works out at the same booze content. A fairly sizable amount and too high in hindsight, but pretty common among friends. I could handle this much (too some degree) – certainly never needed to go to hospital (though may have felt more than just a touch seedy the next day).

    If I’d instead gone for a bottle of Vodka I always went for a full litre (cheapest per drink). And I could (and periodically did) knock off a whole bottle in a single session – ~30 standard drinks. And if you’re 25 drinks into the bottle it’s entirely too easy to swig back the last couple of mouthfuls straight.

    David’s totally right that my substitute wouldn’t have been something weaker with less drinks – it would’ve been something which was several times stronger (even post-mix) and with significantly more standards.

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  18. leftyliberal (651 comments) says:

    @Spoon: and what, if anything, would have altered your drinking behaviour? Is it a lost cause, or could something positive be done? It’s not really cool to smoke anymore, perhaps it’s plausable to make it uncool to be smashed as well?

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  19. BeaB (2,165 comments) says:

    We used to get totally smashed on casks of screwdriver – very cheap, very very strong. I’d rather my girls stuck to RTD’s.
    It’s time we just got over the booze demon and deal with the problem drinkers when they ask for help and leave everyone else alone.

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  20. ISeeRed (236 comments) says:

    leftyliberal, who are you to decide what is cool and what should be uncool for everyone else?

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  21. leftyliberal (651 comments) says:

    @ISeeRed: I was going to let you make that call, as surely you’d be better at it than I would.

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  22. PaulL (5,451 comments) says:

    People drink. Young and old. There are health benefits to moderate consumption, so we shouldn’t ban it. Once we accept that many people drink, then we need to segment those who problem drink. Some (by no means all) problem drinkers are young. The correlation seems to be with “young and stupid” rather than with a particular drink. Unless we’ve found a way to ban stupidly, this is a wasted discussion.

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  23. redeye (633 comments) says:

    [How about you try engaging on the issues, rather than suggesting I am not concerned about harm from alcohol?]

    Well taken with your stance on ‘keep it 18′, your stance on point 08, your public stated position of earning an income from the alcohol industry, and the frequency with which you blog about alcohol restrictions, that is exactly my perception.

    You open your blog up for public comments so I presume its these perceptions you’d want aired.

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  24. Hamnida (905 comments) says:

    Finally some sense from the Herald. Yesterday all you Neolibs thought I was crazy for attacking RTDs.

    There would be a lot less social problems if RTDs were simply banned or taxed out of existence. Bogans could return to Lion Red and Jack Daniels, while teenagers could only do so much harm drinking entry level 4% beers.

    Just remember a right wing blog is not a reflection of mainstream society, as demonstrated by the Herald’s editorial.

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  25. Fox (206 comments) says:

    This may be the most ignorant fact challenged Herald editorial yet.

    Given some of the absolute clunkers the Herald has managed to produce over the years, this sure is a big call!! No doubt though that it’s right up there.

    That is because tobacco, taken in moderation, still kills you. Alcohol does not. If you drink too much coke, it will kill you. Too much water will kill you. It is the abuse of alcohol that is the problem – not alcohol per se. With tobacco, it is entirely different.

    Copy this, pin it to the Kiwiblog mainpage and frame it. Such a clear and concise piece of logic, and yet so incredibly difficult for the average socialist/interventionalist do-gooder to get their head around.

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  26. orewa1 (410 comments) says:

    Sorry but I agree with the Herald. RTDs removed a barrier between soft drinks and hard liquor. They normalised strong alcoholic drinks. They were cynically designed to convert young people to alcohol dependency at an early age. They succeeded dramatically.

    I accept some of the counter arguments about substitutability. But RTDs have become the drink of choice to a generation of young New Zealanders, especially those from lower social groups. Society will pay the price for many decades. Getting RTDs banned would have been a very effective starting point.

    Its time the isolated politicians listened to ordinary, street wise, practical people including parents and community leaders. The liquor industry people, in their role as purveyors of hard drugs to young people, are enemies of society.

    This time, Herald 10, Kiwiblog nil.

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  27. swan (665 comments) says:

    “That is because tobacco, taken in moderation, still kills you. Alcohol does not.”

    Thats a particularly naive statement from Mr Farrar. The reason alcohol is treated differently is because those who wish to ban alcohol have not won the ideological battle. The government is happy to crack down on smoking because these days the median voter doesnt smoke, and thinks smokers deserve everything they get. Alcohol is still enjoyed by the majority.

    To think there is some rational, consistent evidence based framework for drug policy is daft.

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  28. J Mex (184 comments) says:

    There were no RTDs when I was a teen drinker, but mixing Southern Comfort and L&P was essentially the same thing. “Lolly water” has been with us a lot longer than most realise.

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  29. Lee C (2,720 comments) says:

    Amnesia – trying to vindicate your original confusion with another layer of additional confusion does not render the initial confusion clearer.

    It merely reminds people how confused you were, and it transpires, still are. But rest assured, between you and DPF confused logic seems to be pretty much covered.

    If I were of a syllogillistic frame of mind I’d suggest that this must mean you are a neolib.

    ie:
    kiwibloggers are confused neolibs.
    Amnesia is a kiwiblogger
    therefore Amnesia is a neoliberal.

    You go and have yourself ‘a nice fresh German beer’.

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