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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary November 11, 2009



Beer mats or helicopters? The drinks industry’s dilemma

I’m as cynical as the next man when it comes to the drinks industry’s £100m Campaign for Smarter Drinking. (That’s an awful lot of beer mats, etc.) But not if the next man happens to be Professor Martin Plant.

Plant has a claim on inventing the phrase ‘Binge Britain’ having written a book with that title and is a high roller in the anti-alcohol lobby. Alcohol Concern asked him to provide the keynote piece of research for its annual conference last week, a report into alcohol-related death and disease essentially designed to support the argument for a 50p minimum unit price.

All jolly scientific, but Prof Plant stepped a little way outside of his area of expertise when dealing with the Drinkaware campaign. If the drinks industry “really wanted to save lives it would use the £100m to buy helicopters for Afghanistan”.

Prof Plant should be warned against trying to ride two hobby-horses at the same time.


Artificial alcohol: a dangerous invention

I was worried I’d been a little hard on Prof David Nutt in my last diary entry. My concerns were eased yesterday, though, when Nutt turned out for the Currant Bun with his own patent solution to the nation’s alcohol problems.

His invention of artificial alcohol first came up in that Horizon programme a few weeks ago, of course. Then I thought he was joking. But it seems he really believes this stuff – whatever it is – could replace alcohol drinks within 25 years.

Leaving aside the question of whether ex drugs czars should be in the business of inventing new drugs, it reveals Nutt’s total misunderstanding of why most of us drink.

Unlike many drugs, alcohol is not taken purely for the alcohol hit. Because it has such a simple molecular structure it comes in countless forms and its effect on us varies according to many variables including the situation in which it is drunk.

We are able to appreciate these different forms, and even discourse pretentiously on them. I’m not sure this is true of any other drug, and it’s one of the things that makes alcohol special. The psychoactive effect is heavily mediated through culture – and that helps reduce the possibility of its misuse.

Unless Nutt’s alcohol substitute can do all that it’s a dangerous invention. Fortunately it’ll never happen.

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