Tag Archives: neo-Prohibitionists

Once more, how not to report a wine and health story

wine and health

No, NPR, most Americans haven’t been passed out on the the sofa during the pandemic, despite what your story says.

This time, it’s NPR that doesn’t do the reporting and accepts the neo-Prohibitionist arguments that drinking will kill us sooner rather than later

Dear NPR:

Yes, I understand about budget cuts and the changing landscape for traditional media. But that’s still not an excuse for the sloppy reporting in this story, which ran on Friday. It recounted the arguments – most not necessarily true – that the neo-Prohibitionists use in their attempt to once again outlaw alcohol in the U.S.

Hence, I will reiterate my offer to serve as a sounding board the next time something like this comes up. Because, frankly, you missed a lot:

• What’s the bias of the people you’re interviewing? In this case, the story quoted several federal health officials warning us that we’ll kill ourselves if we keep drinking the way we have been during the pandemic. This is where you should have noted these are the same people who said drinking a bottle of wine is the same as smoking 10 cigarettes and that wine with dinner constitutes binge drinking.

• You also took at face value the claim that we’re drinking staggering sums of booze during the pandemic. Which isn’t true. Yes, the story in the link is a bit jargony, but the point is that overall wine sales are down because of restaurant closures. So, in fact, we’re drinking less wine during the pandemic (also borne out here).

• The story said more people die from alcohol-related diseases each year than from drug overdoses, which is damned scary – save for one thing. Drinking is legal and booze is easy to get. Drugs, if you need enough to overdose, usually aren’t legal or easy to get. It’s a lot more convenient to kill yourself with alcohol, since you don’t have to meet a guy in a parking lot to buy heroin or coke, or to forge an Oxycontin prescription and hope the pharmacist doesn’t notice.

• The story ignores the astonishing statistic that one-third of us don’t drink, which is among the highest abstention rates in the industrialized world. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. So, next time, you need to ask: How can we be drinking ourselves to death if so many of us don’t drink?

• The story overlooks the tremendous progress that has been made with legitimate drinking problems, like underage and binge drinking, alcoholism, and drunk driving. For example, alcohol-related crashes have declined by almost one-half since 1985. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, either.

Finally, a few words about one of my favorite neo-Prohibitionist flummoxes, something called “alcohol use disorder,” and which figures prominently in the story. Health officials claim that 15 million of us suffer from this, but the definition is so broad that it includes me, the Big Guy, and almost anyone who takes wine seriously. After all, don’t we spend a “great deal of time… in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking”?

None of this is written to denigrate the serious problems caused by alcohol abuse. It’s something that I’ve been writing about for decades. Rather, it’s to give you the background you need the next time you have to write a story about how we’re drinking ourselves to death.

Yours in quality journalism,

The Wine Curmudgeon

 

Winebits 659: The “They want to bring back Prohibition” edition

Prohibition

“That’s too much wine — back up the paddy wagon.”

This week’s wine news: Reaction from the cyber-ether to proposed federal guidelines that take us closer to banning drinking in the U.S. – just one glass of wine a day for women and two for men

The banker’s perspective: Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank is one of the smartest people in the wine business, and he sees the threat clearly: “What science is behind the recommended change? The report cited only a single study that examined the difference between men consuming one or two drinks per day. My question is how can an unbiased group conclude that a single study should outweigh and counter the weight of decades of prior work?” McMillan also points out, yet again, how remiss the wine business has been in addressing the threat.

The retail perspective: The National Association of Wine Retailers is blunt: “It appears to the NAWR that there is much more at work here than reasonable recommendations based on a solid body of evidence. It appears to the National Association of Wine Retailers that a significant anti-alcohol agenda is at work in devising the proposed new guidelines on alcohol consumption.”

Even the Wine Institute: The Wine Institute, a trade group for the California wine business, is notorious for its refusal to have anything to do with wine and health. That it finally issued a statement criticizing the new guidelines – as milquetoast as it was – speaks volumes about how the wine business finally sees the Neo-Prohibitionist threat. For it is a threat, as I’ve noted many times — equating moderate drinking with cigarette smoking is past science and is about Prohibition.

Winebits 651: Walmart, Grocery Outlet, neo-Prohibitionists

WalmartThis week’s wine news: Walmart will appeal take Texas liquor store case to Supreme court, plus blog favorite Grocery Outlet wins award and the neo-Prohibitionists strike again

Walmart appeal: Walmart, rebuffed twice by a federal appeals court, will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to be allowed to open liquor stores in Texas. We’ve followed this closely on the blog, since Walmart is trying to overturn a state law that forbids publicly-held or out of state companies from getting a retail liquor license (one of the WC’s favorite three-tier restrictions). Walmart won its case at the trial level, but was rebuffed twice by the the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. There’s no certainty the Supreme Court will take Walmart’s case. But if it does, expect some serious three-tier fireworks.

Award-winner: The Wine Enthusiast has named blog favorite Grocery Outlet as one of its 50 best U.S. wine retailers. This is a big deal, if only because Grocery Outlet — best known for its cheap wine — is still mostly on the West Coast. The award puts Grocery Outlet in the same class as Costco, perhaps the U.S. leader in what the magazine calls “value-driven” wine.

One glass of wine: An influential federal panel, reports Forbes, is recommending that men reduce alcohol intake to one drink per day, and that all Americans should cut back on added sugars. Who knew that a couple of glasses of wine were as deadly as that quart of vanilla ice cream? But that’s the finding from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which says that the extra glass of wine is associated with a “modest but meaningful increase” in death rates.

One more reason to be wary of alcohol health studies

alcohol health studiesFinnish researchers find – gasp – that people who abuse alcohol have higher health costs

The Wine Curmudgeon, long suspicious of alcohol health studies, is not surprised by one of the latest, which links alcoholism with higher health costs. What is surprising is the headline on the news release: “Researchers put a price tag on alcohol use” – which, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the study.

First and foremost, let me remind everyone I know first-hand the horrors of alcoholism and abuse. A friend died from them; two more are long-time members of abuse support groups. So I am not making light of alcoholism or saying it isn’t a problem.

Rather, it’s to note, once again, that there is a difference between alcohol abuse and moderate drinking, and which is something that has apparently been shunted aside in the rash of “all drinking is evil” studies we’ve seen over the past couple of years. Drinking is not cigarette smoking, no matter what one study claimed, and drinking wine in moderation is no worse, and may even be more healthy, than regularly eating nitrate-laced supermarket hot dogs. Which, of course, no one has yet done a study about.

This effort, on the other hand, was reaffirming the obvious. Finnish researchers, using what they called a “novel” methodology, say it costs an additional €26,000 (around US$30,000) over five years to treat patients with multiple alcohol abuse factors, such such as homelessness and drug abuse. It also recommends that people with alcohol use disorders should get better treatment for their non-alcohol related conditions.

Which is all well and good, but hardly unusual. So how did the release that ended up in my inbox carry that headline? After reading it, one expects to find the social and health costs of all drinking, moderate and abusive, listed. Which aren’t there and wasn’t the study’s intention.

Maybe the reason is as simple as the headline on the Finnish study being badly translated into English. Maybe it’s nothing more than more bad marketing and public relations work, each of which as gotten progressively worse over the past several years as agencies cut back on employees and training.

And maybe it’s part and parcel of positioning all such studies as being about drinking and doom, and working on the gullibility of newspapers, websites, and the like where the bosses are more concerned with their bonuses than with quality journalism.

I assume it’s one of the first two, and probably the second. I’m terrified it’s the third.

Winebits 614: Alcohol consumption, “bargain” Bordeaux, overpriced beer

alcohol consumptionThis week’s wine news: The Russians cut alcohol consumption by 40 percent, while we find that affordable red Bordeaux costs $20 and a stadium beer vendor got caught overcharging even more than restaurants do

Impressive decline: The neo-Prohibitionists must be rejoicing at the news: “Russian alcohol consumption decreased by 43 percent from 2003 to 2016, a World Health Organization report says.” The BBC report says the decline is credited to advertising restrictions, increased taxes on alcohol, and a ban on alcohol sales between certain hours – all of which have been proposed in one form or another by groups like the Centers for Disease Control to cut U.S. wine, beer, and spirits consumption. The catch? Russia has traditionally been one of the heaviest drinking countries in the world, and the drop in consumption more or less caught Russia up to the rest of the world. For example, the average life expectancy for Russian men rose to all-time high at 68. But it’s 70 for men in the U.S, despite a recent decline, and 79 for men in western Europe, where drinking is common.

Such a deal: Charles Passy, writing in Market Watch, says we can still find affordable red Bordeaux, and he defines affordable as almost $20 a bottle. This is where the Wine Curmudgeon reminds the Winestream Media that $20 a bottle is more than twice the average price of wine sold in the U.S. and that most of us will never spend $20 for a bottle of wine. Or that much French wine that isn’t rose has been overpriced for years. But, given the current climate, if I do that, I’ll probably be criticized as a so-called consumer wine champion full of faux outrage.

Expensive beer: Overpriced booze is nothing new on the blog, as the last item attests. But a Miami beer vendor did us one better. Says the New York Post: “A beer vendor … was arrested after charging a fan $724 for two beers on a personal credit card reader.” How did the vendor get caught? The fan’s credit card company alerted him to the attempted theft on his phone – saved by the same technology that made the overcharge possible. And no, the Wine Curmudgeon won’t make a joke about the winless Dolphins.

Has wine with dinner been turned into binge drinking?

binge drinking

Please, neo-Prohibitonists: Stop these people before they binge drink again.

Yet another booze study characterizes responsible behavior as binge drinking

Another studying demonizing drinking showed up last week, replete with the flaws that have come to characterize these studies. The authors cherry-picked their study group, ignored relevant statistical data, and glossed over any socio-economic and demographic explanations for their conclusion. The result? Old people! Binge drinking!! Death!!!

The other thing that struck me about the study was its definition of binge drinking: four to five drinks in one sitting. In other words, drinking wine with dinner has become just as evil as frat boys chugging Everclear and men of a certain age pounding a six-pack after work and then passing out on the sofa.

My name is the Wine Curmudgeon, and I am a binge drinker.

On Saturday night, I had five glasses of wine with dinner. We had hard-cooked eggs in mustard sauce for a first course, followed by a mock cassoulet (turkey, sausage, a duck leg/thigh, and white beans) served with rice and a cabbage salad. I opened the $10 Pigmentum Gascon white blend with the eggs, which was a terrific pairing (the wine’s citrus fruit complementing the richness of the egg). I drank the fabulous 2011 Bonny Doon Bien Nacido syrah with the cassoulet, and it was an even better pairing – dark, earthy food with a dark, earthy wine.

So how did a full dinner eaten over two or three hours with five glasses of wine turn into binge drinking?

Your guess is as good as mine. The five-drink definition (four for women) comes from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Binging is “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men – in about 2 hours.”

Not coincidentally, that 0.08 number is the legal definition of drunk driving in 49 states. If it’s illegal to drive after five drinks, then it’s easy to call something binging. Or, conversely, let’s lower the legal blood alcohol level to 0.08 since the experts call that binge drinking.

And do not think this is an apologia for alcoholism and drunk driving. I know first-hand the horror and pain of each. Rather, it’s a plea for a measured, reasonable, and rational approach to solving the problems they cause.

That’s because drinking is not the problem. Abusing alcohol is the problem. Trying to shame responsible adults into stopping behavior that isn’t shameful won’t do much to stop alcohol abuse. Didn’t the neo-Prohibitonists learn anything from Prohibition? Hopefully, they’ll eventually figure this out. Until then, I’m happy to do my part to explain it to them.

Photo: “company dinner” by Rivard is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

More about neo-Prohibitionists, booze studies, and wine drinking:
Cigarettes, wine, and cancer
Drinking, scientific doom and gloom, and perspective
The CDC alcohol death study

Are the neo-Prohibitionists winning the debate about drinking?

neo-ProhibitionistsNew data shows neo-Prohibitionists campaign against drinking may be making headway

Are the neo-Prohibitionists winning the debate about drinking? New data, including a study about world alcohol consumption, shows fewer of us are drinking. Does this mean more people believe their argument that all booze is evil?

Worldwide alcohol consumption declined 1.6 percent in 2018, according to a report from IWSR, a London consultancy. And wine, which had increased in consumption globally the past several years, also declined 1.6 percent in 2018. That included leading markets like China, Italy, France, Germany and Spain; the U.S. market was flat.

In addition, reported IWSR, “Low- and no-alcohol brands are showing significant growth in key markets as consumers increasingly seek better-for-you products, and explore ways to reduce their alcohol intake.” Growth of no-alcohol wine is forecast at 13.5 percent, with low-alcohol wine at 5.6 percent. Those are impressive numbers to begin with, even acknowledging the small base, and it’s even more impressive given how few no- and low-alcohol wine products exist today.

Meanwhile, Australians – usually regarded as some of the world’s great drinkers – have cut their alcohol consumption significantly since 2014. No one was more surprised than the CEO of the research institute that did the study, who noted that booze is seen as having “a central role” in Australian life. But no more?

What’s going on here? Know that the IWSR study includes a variety of caveats about why consumption declined, and that it expects drinking to return to growth over the next several years. But when the study identifies Ethiopia as one of the top 10 growth markets in the world, something is much different than we’re used to.

In this, it’s almost certainly the idea that any kind of drinking is bad for us. The IWSR study hints at this, with the growth in no- and low-alcohol products, but so does something else. In the U.S. we’ve always faced a religious backlash against drinking, and it’s the main reason why so much of the country was dry until the 1990s.

But that backlash seems to have ended. A May 2019 Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Americans found drinking morally acceptable; only 19 percent said it was a sin. That makes booze as acceptable as divorce and more acceptable than non-marital sex, says Gallup.

So if more of us are drinking less, and that seems to be the case, then the neo-Prohibitionists’ scare tactics seem to be working. Hopefully, the wine business will eventually take notice and offer a compelling argument in favor of moderation. Its current hear no evil, see no evil, premiumization is the answer to everything policy might work in the short run, but doesn’t offer much for the future of wine drinking in the U.S.

More about the neo-Prohibitionists and drinking:
Health alert: Does the CDC know how dangerous Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is?
Cigarettes, wine, and cancer
The federal government’s three drink limit