Phew … alcohol is still good for you

Dr Eric Crampton of the University of Canterbury – a rising star – gave a great presentation at the Policy Symposium at the Conference of Economists, held this past week in (very cold) Canberra.

 He was competing in the Dodgy Awards, where participants vied for the prize of “my policy area is the worst” (NBN won on a show of boo’s).  But Eric’s contribution in the field of preventive health was very worthy, given the extreme tendency of public health ‘experts’ to invent really, really big scary numbers of the social costs of smoking, drinking, eating, etc.

 One the more egregious errors of these Mary Poppins-types (oops, a bad analogy because didn’t she recommend a spoonful of (evil) sugar for that completely unwarranted dose of medicine peddled by exploitative, multinational BigPharma?) is to count private benefits as social costs.

 But the most pleasing aspect of Eric’s presentation was to learn that the health benefits of (some) alcohol continue to stack up.  Researchers had been making a fundamental error in their analyses – what – scientists undertaking flawed research? How could that be – they never do in relation to climate change? – by including previous drinkers who have given up alcohol because of illness in the control group.  Clearly, this treatment was biasing the results in favour of alcohol intake.  Now the best practice is to include former drinkers with those who consume alcohol.

 The pleasing result is that the health benefits of the consumption of some alcohol – less for women than men, is that fair?, I ask) persist in this new research.  And so for all those wowsers who think complete abstinence is the path to good health, think again.  It has to be admitted that the daily allowances are fairly small – but men seem to be able to consume up to 5 standard drinks per day before the health benefits disappear.

 Actually, I have been off the gin and tonics, followed by Pinot Noir with dinner, for the past few weeks.  Endone, an opiod-based drug, prescribed for the pain associated with my broken wrist (I did have nine screws and a plate put in) does not mix well with alcohol, evidently.  To tell the truth, I have been very disappointed with this Endone – no euphoric highs or feelings of invincibility!

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55 Responses to Phew … alcohol is still good for you

  1. C.L.

    To tell the truth, I have been very disappointed with this Endone – no euphoric highs or feelings of invincibility!

    That’s why you should wash it down with a G&T. 🙂

    …the extreme tendency of public health ‘experts’ to invent really, really big scary numbers of the social costs of smoking, drinking, eating, etc

    There’s a radio ad I’ve heard a few times about men and cancer that intones ominously that 1 in 2 men will be diagnosed with some form of the disease by the age of 85. EIGHTY-FIVE. The men whose support it canvasses won’t exactly get the Sword of Damocles shakes about that stat.

  2. Jim Rose

    Consumer surplus is often forgotten when what James Buchanan called meddlesome preferences are on the warpath.

    Buchanan captures the essence of activist mindset with this phrase ‘meddlesome preferences’, whereby:

    “the elitist, who somehow thinks that his or her own preferences are ‘superior to,’ ‘better than, ‘ or ‘more correct’ than those of other, tries to control the behaviour of everyone else, while holding fast to his or her own liberty to do as he or she pleases.”

    Almost any activity we each undertake is in some way a possible risk to our health and therefore in danger of danger of excessive politicisation.

    Once politics was discovered as the apparent low-cost means of imposing our preferences on others, everything is up for grabs.

    Ludwig von Mises once said that “once the principle is admitted that is the duty of government to protect the individual from his own foolishness, no serious objections can be raised against further encroachments”

    It would be but a boring life if we lived in a cocoon of Nanny-State Economics.

  3. rodney

    I cannot be bothered digging the data out again but;
    1 The data on registration of international patents reveals that 13 countries are the source of almost all of the patents.

    2. The data on booze consumption per head show 24 countries doing most of the heavy lifting.

    Of the 13 patent dense countries 11 are seious boozers. It is clear that booze consumption is good for the brain.

  4. daddy dave

    Endone, an opiod-based drug, prescribed for the pain associated with my broken wrist (I did have nine screws and a plate put in) does not mix well with alcohol, evidently.

    I think you need to put this to the test. One glass of pinot will do the trick.

  5. Quentin George

    Forget all the other shit – moderate consumption of alcohol has a pleasing effect. That in itself is a benefit, seemingly ignored by these vacuous “studies.”.

  6. hc

    Eric’s talk was entertaining but largely baloney. Most people understand that the external costs of smoking and drinking are relatively small compared to private costs. The literature shows, for example, that tax revenues dominate health costs by a huge margin. Road accident costs contingent on drinking should be dealt with by penalising drink driving not by raising taxes on alcohol.

    So most policy actions are motivated by targeting the private costs of drinking and smoking. This is the basis of the internalities literature that libertarians describe as paternalism. The idea is that decisions to smoke or drink are made without adequate concern for future costs. Smoking is initiated by youngsters (average age 14.9 years in Australia) who almost universally regret the decision a few years after starting. Almost all smokers regret their decision to initiate smoking.

    Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death in the world today. In a recent study Kip Viscusi – who worked for the tobacco companies – estimated the health costs of a single packet of cigarettes at $222US. Do smokers internalise this scale of costs when they light up?

    Of course I will now attract a swarm of Catallaxy protest that I am promoting the nanny state etc. Its boring. I in the main I am not advocating a position here just stating where the policy debate is. It has not targeted external costs for many years.

    Eric’s point about biases in assessing impacts of alcohol on health may be correct but he overstated his case. Initially researchers did come up with the conclusion that alcohol did increase life expectancy by failing to exclude those who were abstinent because they had poor health. That clearly imparts a bias in favour of health effects. When that group of abstinent people were excluded a range of results suggested the health effects vanished. He now cites newer studies that reconfirm that health effects do arise at low levels of drinking.

    I have worked a bit on alcohol and I don’t know these new studies. I’ll chase them up and see what they say and change my views if I am convinced by them. But there is no policy conspiracy here. Just an honest attempt to determine what is going on. We all learn.

  7. .

    There’s a radio ad I’ve heard a few times about men and cancer that intones ominously that 1 in 2 men will be diagnosed with some form of the disease by the age of 85. EIGHTY-FIVE. The men whose support it canvasses won’t exactly get the Sword of Damocles shakes about that stat.

    Hmm old age. Hardly fair to blame drinking etc.

    Cancer is a terrible disease but there are so many treatments coming on line. Maybe not in my lifetime but one day we won’t fear it in wealthy countries. I mean look at how we can use this pest:

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/am495h76t3779581/fulltext.pdf

    Prickly pear extract helps fight cancer, particularly prostate cancer

  8. .

    Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death in the world today. In a recent study Kip Viscusi – who worked for the tobacco companies – estimated the health costs of a single packet of cigarettes at $222US.

    What a crock of shit hc. Stop peddling crank economics.

  9. Quentin George

    Pretty much ever 85 year old male has cancer – mostly prostate. Effectively if you die of “old age” you die with cancerous tissue.

  10. .

    A back of the envelope calculation shows that hc thinks the “true” cost of smoking in Australia every year is 170 bn. If all adults smoked we’d basically have zero GDP.

    What a bloody idiot.

  11. .

    Of course I will now attract a swarm of Catallaxy protest that I am promoting the nanny state etc. Its boring. I in the main I am not advocating a position here just stating where the policy debate is. It has not targeted external costs for many years.

    No harry. We are not picking on you for the hell of it. We are picking on you for being an idiot and spruiking crank economics.

    “If every Australian adult smoked, GDP would fall to zero”

    You’re a genius you idiot.

  12. JC

    Harry,

    Smoking is a private health issue, not a public health one. The consequences of the government sticking its ugly paws in make matter worse not better.

    Smoking manufacturing is now basically a government sanctioned monopoly. There are no new entrants and R&D to make the habit safer is non-existent. No one gives a shit. The established cig firms make their pile of money and it is a pile by the way, the government gets the tax and everyone walks around pretending they reary reary care.

    Take a look at this chart. Even through the CFC PM kept its dividend and the stock has only gone higher.
    http://www.google.com/finance?q=philip+morris

    The quicker you realize that smoking is a private health matter the better things would be.

  13. JC

    And R&D is hugely important. Imagine a cig or something that is a substitute without the health issues , or greatly reduced health problems.

    You are never going to see that in a million years, whereas if the industry was left alone, you would see tons of R&D. Who wouldn’t want a safer habit?

  14. JC

    Oh and put up the 10 year chart… PM actually raised its divident during the GFC.

  15. Scott

    Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death in the world today. In a recent study Kip Viscusi – who worked for the tobacco companies – estimated the health costs of a single packet of cigarettes at $222US.

    Quoth the Viscusi and Hersch abstract:

    This article estimates the mortality cost of smoking using the first labor market estimates of the value of statistical life by smoking status. The value of statistical life is $7 million for both smokers and nonsmokers. Using this value in conjunction with the increase in the mortality risk over the life cycle due to smoking, the value of statistical life by age and gender, and information on the number of packs smoked over the life cycle, the private mortality cost of smoking is $222 per pack for men and $94 per pack for women in $2006, based on a 3% discount rate. At discount rates of 15% or more, the cost decreases to under $25 per pack.

    Nothing to do with ‘health costs’.

  16. Michael Sutcliffe

    The value of statistical life is $7 million for both smokers and nonsmokers. Using this value in conjunction with the increase in the mortality risk over the life cycle due to smoking,

    Using this basis I would be interested in seeing the ‘private mortality cost’ of cycling, jogging, horse riding, rugby, road transport, bushwalking, cleaning residential roof gutters, being overweight, and owning a backyard pool.

    I’m willing to bet that using the same basis, they’d be fairly substantial, especially cycling.

  17. Michael Sutcliffe

    Add to that owning pets, backyard barbecues, gas heating and trampolines.

  18. Michael Sutcliffe

    I wonder how close ‘adventure sports’ eg. things like hang gliding and base jumping, would get to smoking.

  19. coz

    It’s middle class do-gooderism annointed as socio/relgious policy. Moral vanity is paraded before us as the way, the truth and the life.

    Beer strength has been eroded over the years, most full strength beers are now about 4.7% alcohol – I think the old full strength was closer to 6 %. It doesn’t seem to have achieved anything either.

  20. hc

    Gee Scott, I includer loss of life as a health cost.

  21. hc

    Michael,

    You might be right about using things such as trampolines. There might be a high private cost that people should be aware of. That does not mean trampolines should be banned since there are safe ways of using them – either by exercising care or by using equipment that protects the user – guiding nets for example. If you have kids using them it makes sense to monitor their use when they are beginning.

    But there is no safe method of smoking (and as well smoking is very addictive). I doubt too that using a trampoline shaves a few years off your statistical life. Its a false analogy.

  22. JC

    But there is no safe method of smoking

    Harry , of course there is. People that smoke one or two a day or do so when they are out somewhere. It make no discernible difference to their live span and possibly even some psychological good.

  23. Michael Sutcliffe

    But there is no safe method of smoking.

    There is no safe method of cycling either unless you wear full motorcycle leathers, on a flat sealed track with no other users.

    The fact is if you ride your bike down the road at 30km/h in sporting attire with road traffic i.e. the way people normally go cycling, there is an ever present risk of death or serious injury that no level of risk management will fully abate. Ditto smoking.

    And neither of them should be banned or penalised.

  24. DOT,

    This one came up today:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v475/n7355/full/nature10167.html

    Selective killing of cancer cells by a small molecule targeting the stress response to ROS

    ——

    The important breakthroughs in understanding cancer relate to understanding how tumours create a “safe haven” for themselves. This is in part driven by ROS inducing immunological messengers which suppress the immune response to the tumour. Strange as it may seem this offers some support for the idea of heavy anti-oxidant loading pushed by the alternative crowd. By reducing ROS in cancer cells the immunological messengers are reduced hence facilitating a sufficiently strong response against the tumour. It all depends on the tumour type. This also throws some light on why cannabinoids can be particularly efficacious in some cancer treatments because these compounds can very strongly suppress the relevant immunlogical messenger.

    ——-
    As to the health benefits of alcohol my impression was that the literature consistently pointed to minor benefits from low level consumption. There were exceptions of course but that always happens, there is hardly an area of bio-medicine where contradictory results are not present. That is why I tend to rely on a mass action approach(apologies to Lashley!) to the literature. I’m not even sure anymore that one can adequately model biochemical processes because the modeling is often predicated on the idea that Life is orderly and systematic. There is too much KAOS kicking around in Life processes. Heuristics yes, rules no.

    Given the rants against scientists on this blog of late I now assume that Catallaxians are anti-science.

  25. manalive

    Once government-run universal health care is adopted, the citizens automatically must acquiesce to do-goodery — I’m not saying it’s desirable, just inevitable.

  26. Jim Rose

    Thanks Scott, saved me looking the number up.

    Confusion between private and social costs is a common error in public health debates.

    Viscusi also found that:
    • there are externalities that increase some social costs, such as medical costs, fires, sick leave, and retirement benefit taxes that are not paid once smokers are dead.

    • Other cost components, pensions, social security, and nursing home expenditures, are lower for smokers.

    • On balance, excluding the role of excise taxes, cigarettes convey a net cost savings based on discount rates such as 3 percent or less and impose a net cost increase when the effects are evaluated at interest rates of 5 percent or more.

    • Thus, there are both positive and negative externalities that have different trajectories over time, making the inter-temporal weights much more consequential than in simpler externality situations such as with air pollution

    And

    • the substantial costs imposed by drunk drivers are a dominant concern in the negative externalities associated with this alcohol.

    I am old enough to remember when drinking and driving was common-place and then the shift to it rightly becoming a social pariah.

  27. dover_beach

    Given the rants against scientists on this blog of late I now assume that Catallaxians are anti-science.

    An erroneous conclusion, JohnH. We also ‘rant’ against politicians, this does not mean we are ‘anti-politics’.

  28. Jim Rose

    Michael Sutcliffe,
    The safest method of cycling is not to ride a bike.

    People can be negligent in how they drive, which the police and courts regulate, but they are not penalised for driving too often or at all.

    If cycling was just invented, would impartial, wise and far-sighted regulators allow such slow moving and hard to see figures to be legally on the road? Differences in traffic speeds and flow rates are major accident risk factors.

  29. .

    No John H,

    I find it insulting that someone can swan in here and tell us that the external costs of smoking are so high, that we basically would be living in a zero sum economy if everyone took it up.

    hc has chosen a really stupid line of argument. Loss of life is now an externality. We need to keep people alive forever to minimise externalities. The net welfare gain or loss doesn’t matter.

  30. daddy dave

    I want someone else to join with me in persuading Judith to have a glass of wine in defiance of doctor’s orders. Do you know what they mean by “does not mix well with alcohol” in this situation?

  31. Yobbo

    Shorter Harry: I don’t like smoking but I do like drinking. Therefore smoking is a net drain on society and should be banned, whereas alcohol should not.

  32. .

    Yobbo,

    I hope you put away $222 every time you buy a pack. It’s how much you cost society, you know.

  33. hc

    Hi Yobbo, great to get started on one of your well-worn, serial misrepresentations.

    I didn’t claim here that anything should be banned. I said that policy makers target private costs not externalities. I then cited a well-known estimate of the private health cost of smoking.

  34. .

    I then cited a well-known estimate of the private health cost of smoking.

    It’s laughable.

  35. Judith Sloan

    I think the government should FORCE everyone over 70 years of age to take up smoking in order to cut several years off their lives and save us all those medical costs associated with those final years!!:)

  36. Peter Patton

    From an historical perspective, it looks like not only has the bourgeoisie triumphed over the workers in stealing the ALP, but the particular form of bourgeois triumph is the Methodists entryists!!

  37. Infidel Tiger

    HAary, why do you care if people smoke? It’s no skin off your nose. Why the beef with what private citizens do in their private time?

    Thank your lucky stars we don’t have a wanking tax, you mad old wanker.

  38. coz

    A new man-made boojie utopia awaits us!

  39. hc

    That’s factually incorrect Judith and not much in the way of humor either. It’s true the government enjoys health cost savings because smokers die earlier but the private costs of foregone life – government targets these – exceed by a margin these health cost savings. That’s because smoking has relatively weak morbidity costs – lung cancer and heart disease tend to kill you off quickly.

  40. Michael Sutcliffe

    Thank your lucky stars we don’t have a wanking tax, you mad old wanker.

    God, you’ve seen the bureaucracy required to police the carbon tax. Imagine the size of the regulatory public sector required to enforce that one!! (And would that make Harry the equivalent of the “Big Polluters”?!)

  41. Michael Sutcliffe

    the private costs of foregone life

    That life is owned by the smoker and theirs to use as they choose, to their own ends. Am I missing something here?

  42. hc

    Yes you moron, you are missing what I have repeated about 4 times. As a matter of policy governments do target these private costs because they assume that they reflect errors of judgement or internalities. I didn’t say that was a good or bad thing I just said that it was widely known that the externalities were small relative to the private costs.

    I did cite a well-recognized and widely cited estimate of the private health cost of the foregone life which works out at $222 per pack.

  43. Michael Sutcliffe

    Nice to know I didn’t miss the point then, and my position that the government has no reasonable mandate to act on that basis is still correct.

  44. hc

    Michael, seek help. Get dot and infidel Tiger to join you.

    None of you have anything more than well-developed schoolyard level abuse abilities – in all other respects you are each and collectively a waste of space.

  45. Michael Sutcliffe

    Why do keep coming back here then, night after night? We’re under the impression you want to be Catallaxy’s resident bitch? Y’know, the sort who says dumb things because they secretly enjoy being put down and treated badly.

  46. Rococo Liberal

    the government enjoys health cost savings

    Do Governemtns enjoy anything, hc? Politicians enjoy using that wanky excuse that they can tell us what to do because it cots money. Well the answer to that is that they could get out of health care all together. We wouldn’t let the buggers run our food markets, so why the hell should they have anythging to do with health or education?

  47. hc

    You are not the doorman and your impressions don’t concern me.

    I didn’t say dumb things. I stated a view and presented evidence to support that view. What is your contribution apart from leveling abuse?

  48. Rococo Liberal

    Dear All

    Hc is not a real person at all, but a computer generated troll. One can tel this because the arguments presented are to naff and uninspired to be thought up by a real person.

  49. Michael Sutcliffe

    What is your contribution apart from leveling abuse?

    This for one:

    But there is no safe method of smoking.

    There is no safe method of cycling either unless you wear full motorcycle leathers, on a flat sealed track with no other users.

    The fact is if you ride your bike down the road at 30km/h in sporting attire with road traffic i.e. the way people normally go cycling, there is an ever present risk of death or serious injury that no level of risk management will fully abate. Ditto smoking.

    And neither of them should be banned or penalised.

    But you chose not to engage it.

  50. Infidel Tiger

    But there is no safe method of smoking.

    That’s a lie. Couple of durries a week causes zero harm.

  51. hc

    Arrrr…hhhhhhh! Too crazy for therapy even. Off to greener pastures.

  52. Michael Sutcliffe

    See you tomorrow night then, bitch.

  53. Infidel Tiger

    Put your anti-wanking gloves on and hit the sack you mad old onanist.

  54. .

    I did cite a well-recognized and widely cited estimate of the private health cost of the foregone life which works out at $222 per pack.

    It’s a crock of shit you gibbering old fool. Under the ridiculous assumption that the external cost of smoking is 222 USD per pack (hahahahaha), if all Australian adults smoked, we would have imputed all GDP against the external costs and have net welfare of zero.

    Too crazy for therapy even. Off to greener pastures.

    Enjoy the shock therapy you imbecile.

  55. A couple of points.

    1. Yes, consumer surplus matters a lot and gets ignored.

    2. See Castelnuovo and Donati’s 2006 metastudy for the best estimates on the j curve adjusted for potential confounds.

    3. The continued reliance on Chikritz over Donati suggests other than truth seeking is at work.

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