In breaking news, alcohol is really not a safe drug. It is a major cause of non-communicable death and disease; for example, over time it can damage many of your vital organs in ways that no other drugs can, including heroin. Addiction to alcohol can wreck individual lives and the lives of families and loved ones. It is a significant factor in domestic violence and the whole gamut of anti-social behaviour and public disorder. People kill people under the influence of alcohol whether running them over in a car or shooting them in a booze-fuelled rage.
Yet this didn’t stop the BBC having a sensible and interesting discussion about developments in the global alcohol market on its Radio 4 business programme, ‘The Bottom Line’. One of the station’s top presenters Evan Davis, interviewed a craft gin producer and a craft beer producer from the UK, and the global consumer planning director for Diageo, a major alcohol company earning £18bn a year worldwide and whose brands include Guinness, Johnny Walker whiskey and Smirnoff vodka.
The programme focussed on the substantial growth in super premium alcohol products and gin in particular. There was a brief and inevitable mention right at the start about the 18th century London gin epidemic famously depicted in Hogarth’s Gin Lane from which gin became known as ‘mother’s ruin’. But the programme moved swiftly on to celebrate the growth of an artisan gin market to match the development of artisan and craft beers developed in micro-breweries. There are many cross-overs from the growth of e-cigarettes. It was consumers who drove developments in craft beer having become dissatisfied with yellow fizzy lager produced in scale with little differentiation in price or product choice. With gin, the aim of the craft gin company was to produce gin that you could drink neat, and this has led to an explosion in flavoured gin which has attracted people who have never drunk alcohol before. Imagine that coming up in a programme about e-cigarettes. The delivery ‘system’ became disrupted; Diageo’s success with gin started in Spain where the product became ‘aspirational’ and reassuringly expensive served in large copper glasses with ice. Diageo now sell into markets in Australia, Mexico, Canada and Brazil. The interviewees were quizzed about the idea that the product ‘experience’ was as important as the product itself. Apparently, the Guinness Brewery attracts 1.7 million visitors a year and is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions. Maybe a lesson there for the tobacco companies. They also talked about craft products having social currency – people in pubs and bars will discuss the products – in much the same way as vapers will discuss the products they use. Traditionally there were few talking points around a cosy log pub fire about dreary keg beer and John Player cigarettes.
There was also a debate about whether you can have credible craft products buried inside a multi-national corporation, as the craft brewery had just been taken over causing some consternation among its customers. The response was that the company now had more money to invest in R&D with the aim of producing an even better product; the key was retaining the quality.
The interviewees all spoke about their respective products with enthusiasm and universal hope for significant future growth. And this was a programme devoted to business not health, so there were no little ‘balancing’ BBC homilies about ‘drinking responsibly’. Nobody was put on the back foot having to defend their products and I doubt if the BBC received many if any complaints about the programme ‘glorifying alcohol’.
Unfortunately, the producers of safer nicotine products (SNP) are still deeply immersed in fighting rear-guard actions against senseless regulation and control which is denying consumers not just a choice of products, but products that actually have a health benefit over traditional tobacco products, which cannot be said for artisan alcohol whatever the ‘experience’ might be. I don’t know how far away we are from SNP manufacturers talking in a business context on business programmes only about products, consumer choice and the prospects for growth without being harangued about health risks. But we urgently need a grown up and mature debate about nicotine disconnected from the hellfire, smoke and damnation of fundamentalist rhetoric, a debate which will be seriously kickstarted at the 2019 GFN Warsaw. Tragically, for those smokers stuck in the middle of confusion and indecision, the hue and cry over SNP remind us that nicotine is still at the ‘mother’s ruin’ phase of 18th century gin when, incidentally, we were still burning witches.
The use of alcohol or drugs in any quantity is forbidden in the Koran for fear of addiction. Yet smoking tobacco is not specifically prohibited, only that people should not engage in self-destructive habits nor should people waste money, while Islamic jurists point to the exhortations in the Koran not to do harm to others which indicts passive smoking. Tobacco fatwas have been issued in Egypt, Indonesia, Malaya, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Philippines, Morocco, Oman and Kuwait among others. These fatwas have been issued primarily on health grounds, even though they haven’t stopped sky high smoking prevalence in some of these countries.
Fatwas have been extended to SNP; in 2015 Malaysia for example condemned e-cigarettes in Koranic terms as harmful and a waste of money, although one can only imagine the health cost of smoking in a country with a near 50% adult smoking prevalence rate.
Even so, the development of SNP does open up new opportunities to engage with the relevant authorities to see e-cigarettes and similar products in a very different light from combustible cigarettes. The main sticking point though is still going to be this issue of ‘addiction’ which is why it is so important to try and change the narrative so that current smokers in Islamic countries can more easily benefit from products that are not self-destructive, do no harm to others and can help bring down the cost of healthcare. Maybe a reference to an oft-quoted Koranic diktat that it is permissible to do a lesser harm if it helps prevent a greater one would be helpful.
Nice summary of the recent e-cigarette summit held in London. Lots of interesting presentations, but just a couple of points to mention. Professor Farsalinos observed that all the research into vaping is geared to actually finding problems with the products rather than investigating how these products might best reduce harm. Also Tim Phillips from E-Cig Intelligence cleared up a misconception that JUUL has 75% of the e-cig market in the United States – an error which will be corrected in the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report. This misconception has come about because more than 50% of the market (including online stores and high street vape stores) is not measured. He also pointed out that the US market is extremely fragmented, with no one brand having more than 5% of market share. Indeed, 61% of vape stores are still selling their own house liquid.
The current ‘must read’ is the letter sent to FDA boss Scott Gottlieb by some of the field’s most esteemed researchers warning against over-reaction to the use of JUUL by young people and setting out in detail the importance of correctly interpreting the data.
And then I spotted this courtesy of Mr Guido Fawkes
And these new entries in the Anti-Vaping Hall of Shame – actually the first entries…..
This one is even worse. Those of a sensitive disposition be aware that you are about to be subjected to child spouting adult-driven lies and propaganda. But then I suppose nonsense like this would come out of the mouths of those kids who have been indoctrinated with the idea of creationism.
So to end on a lighter note….
For reasons that only a therapist could untangle, I had a vision of two members of the FCTC Secretariat becoming involved in a torrid office romance. They slip away to a hotel, rip off each other’s clothes and fall into bed. As they do, the man starts whispering into his lover’s ear, “Phillip Morris, BAT, JTI”. She says, “Ohhh...I love it when you talk dirty”.