If there's one industry that should understand the threat of prohibition it's the drinks industry. Just as the moral entrepreneurs moved from alcohol to tobacco without missing a beat when Prohibition was enacted in America, history is repeating itself with the twist being that the move is now from tobacco to alcohol.
Did the drinks industry really believe that people who use a junk science estimate of 54 hospitality workers dying each year to bring about a total smoking ban in every pub in the land were going to think twice about using the same tactics on an industry they blame for 40,000 deaths each year?
The drinks company Diageo seems to have finally woken up to this inevitable mission creep. Lord knows, the neo-prohibitionists could hardly have made it more obvious for them when they arranged a get together (at the taxpayer's expense, natch) to discuss how to use anti-smoking methods against drinkers. They then took another leaf out of the tobacco control manual by banning the drinks industry from the event.
Finally taking this a subtle hint that alcohol is next, Diageo have kicked off. From the Scotsman:
Drinks giant Diageo has cut its ties with Scotland's most prominent alcohol awareness charity over controversial moves by the campaigning group to link the impact of alcohol to that of smoking.
The company, which makes Johnnie Walker, Bell's, Guinness and Smirnoff, has retaliated against Alcohol Focus Scotland after being frozen out of a conference next week which the group is co-hosting with anti-smoking lobbyist ASH.
Quite right too. Banning the drinks industry from a discussion about 'alcohol control' (expect to hear that phrase more and more) is a good indication that the neo-pros don't so much want to work with industry as go to war with it. What do they have to fear from having people who understand the drinks industry attend their cosy little shindig? Do they really feel they have nothing to learn or are they worried that a bit of real-world knowledge might make their carefully prepared Powerpoint presentations look a tad naive?
Banning stake-holders from industry from attending meetings is a policy that started when the EU banned all tobacco industry delegates from attending tobacco control meetings. When they first did this, there were warnings that it would lead to representatives from oil companies, drinks companies, car manufacturers etc. being similarly banned. No, no, said the neo-pros. Tobacco was a special case. There's no slippery slope here, don't be silly.
Edinburgh-based Diageo has written to AFS, arguing it is "misleading and unjustified" to suggest smoking and drinking should be tackled in the same way when there is evidence that responsible drinking causes no harm.
They're still not quite getting it, are they? There are important differences between smoking and drinking, but, to the neo-pros, they differ only by degrees. Alcohol Focus, like David Nutt, see no fundamental distinction between tobacco and alcohol. They never have. Smoking just happened to be an easier target, just as alcohol was an easier target in 1920. Diageo are complaining because they resent having their products grouped in with cigarettes, but what they want is of minimal importance. The fact is that moralists and puritans have always grouped smoking and drinking together.
Having given Alcohol Focus £140,000 in recent years, it has also decided to redirect funding to other alcohol education programmes.
Talk about making a rod for your own back. Now, a little too late, Diageo have started to realise that these people can't be bought off or compromised with.
AFS claim the drinks and tobacco industries regularly share tactics on how best to counter public health arguments and that new research suggests even small amounts of drink could be harmful.
No safe level of alcohol. As I said the other day, this is true prohibitionist rhetoric.
Mark Baird, head of corporate social responsibility, said: "We believe it is misleading and unjustified to suggest alcohol and tobacco should be treated the same way with regard to public health policies and we strongly believe the recent moves by AFS to associate the two are a serious mistake which cannot go unchallenged."
It's too late for that, sunshine. You are now the evil 'liquor trade'. You had every chance to take a principled stand on personal liberty but ignored your allies and funded your enemies. If you're going to sup with the devil, bring a long spoon. It's not as if these people haven't shown you time and again that they are not your friends.
AFS said it had decided not to invite drinks firms to the summit because organisers did not want "vested interests" involved in a discussion on possible public health reforms.
A brave and principled stand, and one that I'm sure Alcohol Focus Scotland's new partners at ASH will support 100% because if there's one thing they hate, it's having vested interests at their events.
Day One: Monday 14th June 2010
How to interpret a scientific paper and make your own conclusions
Craig Beck and Imran Khan, Medical and Scientific Relations, Pfizer Ltd, Tadworth, UK
Lose the Smoker in You: A community approach to quitting in New Parks, Leicester
Louise Ross, Tobacco Control Delivery Manager, NHS Leicester City, UK and Kay Harris, Head of Local Marketing, Pfizer Ltd, Tadworth, UK