Sunday, October 20, 2019

@TheEconomist on Alcohol and Health.

"A Sober Brawl," available at https://shrtm.nu/8Jwl
Sources: “Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria
 decision analysis”, by D. Nutt et al., The Lancet;
 “How dependent is the alcohol industry on heavy
drinking in England?” by A. Bhattacharya et al.,
Addiction; Centre for Responsive Politics; NHS
A brief piece this week, on the Economist's "graphic detail" item.  "Vaping" has been in the news, with ancillary reporting relating to tobacco and smoking. The newspaper points out, however, that it is alcohol that causes far more harm, and further illustrates (troublingly) that industry profits are based on the dependency of problem drinkers.  Should all who drink at hazardous or harmful levels moderate, the price rises necessary to maintain profits would be significant.

True, firms engage in public messaging to the contrary. But it appears public health officials question their commitment.  The article points out that the National Institutes of Health recently stopped working with the industry as a consequence, as did the World Health Organization. Perhaps sensing the danger, lobbying spending by alcohol firms has been on the rise. It now exceeds that of the tobacco industry by 31%.

image available at http://tinyurl.com/qh8ww2f
It's not the way we think about these things in the northern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, where so many wineries (and increasingly distilleries and breweries) find their homes. We think of the beauty of the orderly rows of vines. "Living on a vineyard" evokes a mental flash of magic and starlight, hopefully in some way both natural and sustainable. Further, such vistas are reminiscent of James Scott's legible forests -- suggesting, to borrow from David Brooks, that our desire for ordered rationality has found symmetry in our cultivation of the natural environment where we reside.

Yet the industry those rows of vines serve has its problems. To paraphrase Brooks, the highest form of wisdom is balancing the networks that shape our reality by perceiving, evaluating, and acting upon evidence.  Doing so means recognizing that the beauty of Napa and Sonoma, as ever, can come with an uncomfortable cost. Per the bard, roses have thorns, and silver fountains, mud, while clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun. Sobering thoughts indeed.

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