Tuesday, June 26, 2007

alkomahol, yes, that stuff

The smoking ban is soon upon us; this will be to my benefit, and will make many places I like to go seem more pleasant, but I was ambivalent to it in a sledgehammer-nut/civil liberties kinda way and now I read this; the ban includes shisha. This makes me sad, and I suspect that some small parts of the world as I know it may be at an end. I've never used shisha - I've never been part of a gathering that was collectively up for it - but I spent a lot of my student days lurking in shisha cafes with newspapers, for all the reasons the article mentions, plus I've found them to be sources of very tasty, very cheap food. The cultural mingling got to me in the usual petty ways; it was shisha cafes that got me hooked on mint tea, though I more often make it at home now; aubergines also, which I could never abide before; the odd bit of cheesy Algerian pop music has made its way to my hard drive. If there's no last-minute fix, then - well, the world will move on and I will feel a little eroded.

I never used shisha, but I never minded being around it; it smells pleasant, and doesn't change how people treat each other. It's also minor and innocuous enough that it can be banned. These things are generally not true of alcohol.

That alcohol dominates communal life in the UK isn't exactly news. Though it was in the news not long ago. Older non-news has it that a third of A&E admissions have been drinking, though that could, rather than being causal, simply indicate that a huge proportion of the population is drinking at any given time.

Quite apart from cycles of harm and violence, alcohol is a filter that excludes a lot of people from the rest of their communities; the young; those who fear violence; those who can't drink for medical reasons (including addiction); Mormons, Muslims and others who abstain for religious reasons; those who can't get to their homes without a car; those who really can't afford it. I guess the whole thing chugs on because, durhur, of the economy; substance use is a capitalist's dream, a self-reinforcing social habit that gets people spending, spending, spending; places that provide alcohol will always outcompete those that do not.

I'm not particularly anti-drinking, just anti-cultural-obsessions, and this one is a cultural obsession. Drifting off at a slight tangent here, I love this table;

It represents a study commissioned by the Science Select Committee; I'm not sure how the heck they worked out the numerical harm scale, but you get the general idea. Contributing experts included senior policemen as well as doctors and scientists. (Here is where I stole it from). Both the laws governing substance use, and the practise of substance use, has nothing to do with rationality; we're in something driven by economics and acquired habit (social behaviour and foreign policies both), and no one's holding the reins.

My aunt, a dear gentle Christian lady roughly three times my age, told me yesterday that cannabis should be legalised and heroin should be prescribed because so much progress has been made in fighting tobacco smoking while keeping it legal. I think it's a pretty good approach, if misplaced; alcohol users likely do far more harm to non-users than smokers do. Would health warnings and billboards change drug use, or drinking habits? And if they did, what would become of the economic machinery behind those substances? Hmm.


Cassandra Says said...

I'm thinking the chart must mean harm that the substance does to the person using it rather than to others, since heroin,coke and meth users are far more dangerous to themselves than they are to anyone else. And note the I used to use 2 of the 3, and I also drink. I'm way more of a nuisance to others drunk than I ever was high on meth or coke.

The way things are handled legally has nothing to do with logic, though, and everything to do with economics and politics. Look at E - why is that a Class A drug? I can see why heroin and coke are, especially heroin, but E and cannabis? The drugs that make people cuddle strangers and, in some cases, eat too many crisps? How is this a grave dnager to society?

There's a certain grim humour in the whole thing, really, seeing just how little relationship there is between a substances societal potential to cause harm and its legal status.

thene said...

There are pretty-much-proven mental health dangers to cannabis and E - but they're proportionally rarer and also less deadly than the mental health risks of alcohol use. The jury's still out on whether cannabis brings on schizophrenia early or can actually cause it in those who otherwise would not be sufferers, but the connection is real, and can kill - I have an ex-friend who lost a friend to schizo-suicide after developing a weed habit. But *lots of things* can kill or cause mental health problems - horseriding, living in the Arctic, giving birth, eating too much cake... Eventually, everything kills. It's not a good reason to create organised crime. Fuck civil liberties, what they're doing here is deliberately creating organised crime for no reason beyond outraged moral panic, while they're utterly blithe about the impossibility of enjoying communal life without alcohol. Wtf.