Saturday, 9 January 2016

Life risks

I like taking risks. I also like to manage those risks. The most satisfying risk that I take is various forms of mountaineering. I've enjoyed rock climbing, scrambling1 and alpine mountaineering, including traversing glaciers and navigating serious rock-fall areas. It is all about understanding and managing that risk. Making sure that serious injury or even death are kept to very low probability is actually something that makes the activities worthwhile. One of my favourite mountaineering quotes is by Edward Whymper;
"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."
But then, this is in direct contradiction of the need for excitement. If no risks exist then the whole buzz from doing it disappears. Equally, especially when mountaineering in the Alps, or other major snow and ice bound regions, just getting to the top necessitates speedy movement and deploying excessive safety measures would result in failure to reach the objective. So I also subscribe to the  Tibetan saying;
"It is better to live for one day as a tiger than to live for a thousand years as a sheep."
There is one thing in life that we can be absolutely certain about; we will die, sometime, somewhere and of something. We might die many years from now, and of course we all hope this will be the case. Some of us will last less time, be it through illness or accident. Few of us will have too much idea, except for life expectancy statistics, when that is likely to be. I for one would prefer to die knowing that I've had a fulfilling and exciting life, rather than living to a grand age and achieving nothing.

Some people are risk averse, I don't judge that. If knowing a risk is present makes you feel unhappy then don't take that risk. Moreover, what one person sees as an acceptable risk in exchange for pleasure another will recoil. I expect many people find my pleasure from mountains difficult to understand. Conversely, I find the excitement associated with the risk of losing money on gambling completely baffling, but who I am to judge people who take pleasure from that activity?

Motor sport, cycling, scuba diving, motor cycling, sailing, sky diving, or even base-jumping wearing a wing suit carry risks. Drinking alcohol in significant amounts does carry a risk, but most of us understand that risk already and accept it as part of what we do.

We are told that drinking any amount of alcohol carrys a risk. We are told that this conclusion is based on scientific research. I will, in time, examine and give my own take on the leap from hard statistical data to the conclusions. I am fairly sure that the conclusions have a bias that results in them being significantly unscientific, but because they are based on science, the general public will swallow the story.

The hidden agenda is of course a need to raise revenue from alcohol duty. This latest report will give the treasury carte blanche to raise duty rates in the coming months, I am fairly sure of that.

However, the advice is based purely on the evidence of apparent mortality. It does not take into account the pleasure that alcohol brings to people. It does not take into account the fact that alcohol is part of our culture, part of our way of life. It does not even reflect the fact, recognised in the detail, that the effect of alcohol is also related to an individual's tolerance of alcohol.

It does not bring out into the open the fact that the seasoned drinker, who consumes alcohol every day, is actually at similar risk compared to someone who drinks significantly less but crams it into one session per week.2

The guidelines now state that irrespective of your body type, or metabolism, or genderwe should all limit our drinking the same. They do not reflect the fact that there are groups of people at higher risk, and conversely groups of people at lower risk. The guidelines are simply a one size fits all lowest common denominator figure, despite the fact that the details in the data show that there are significant variations in that risk.

I really fear some big changes to legislation, and it is hinted at in the documentation I've read. I believe that mandatory health warnings on all packaging and advertising is just around the corner. This is going to place a huge burden on us small producers. All our labels will need to be reviewedand I am fairly certain that mandated website health warnings are likely.

These burdens are much harder for us small producers to cope with compared with significantly larger producers. This contradicts the fact that I would consider, in general, the type of drinker that enjoys cask beer, craft beer or any other artisanal alcoholic beverage to generally be a more responsible and lower risk.

I fear for the viability of many small producers in this ever increasing burdensome, legislatively hungry, risk adverse culture.

Moreover, I worry that we are finding ourselves in an era where we forget the less tangible benefits of social cohesion that regular drinking achieves. It fails to recognise that hard working people deserve the relaxation and escape that a few sensible drinks bring.

Even if there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and I'm still processing the information to see how true that actually is, the most recent guidelines fails to recognise the fact that perhaps these tiny risks are in fact worth the greater benefits. But most importantly, the conclusions drawn to achieve the guidelines do not reflect what I think is in the detail of the data. Moreover much of the data is from various studies over various countries. I feel that the distance between the people creating the data in the first place and the final recommendations to the Chief Medical Officer have so many layers of interpretation, coupled with hidden agendas, to render the whole conclusion significantly unscientific. I hope to be able to shed doubt in further posts regarding the distance the final conclusions are from the hard facts.


1A form of rock climbing on easier, but often longer routes in remoter areas. The risks can be greater as ropes are often not used and the consequence of a fall, although less likely, can be significant.

2A man aged between 18-34 who drinks about 42 units over a week is at about the same risk as the same demographic who consumes about 8 units in one day. 42 units per week is 6 units every single day!

3I actually think that if you compared body mass rather than gender we would find that actually this is a much more realistic correlation and that actually the only gender correlation is due to the fact that women statistically have a lower body mass. However, to suggest that you can drink more if you are heavier this would be contrary to other health messages the authorities would like to propagate.

4The cost associated with making sure we are compliant with allergens is by no means insignificant. Redesign, reprinting and wasted stock of labels that are no longer compliant.

1 comment:

Curmudgeon said...

You can certainly drink more and remain below the legal limit for driving if you're heavier ;-)