Wednesday 16 July 2014

Cost benefit beer.

Calculation time!  It's a while since I waved my arms at some order of magnitude numbers.  Recently I was remembering the multiply-fatal Lac Mégantic derailment and left a question hanging about how dangerous is beer. In a famous incident in October 1814, 500 tons of beer Niagraed out of a vat in London and drowned 7 poor people in the local cellars.

The per capita annual beer consumption in Ireland is close to 100 lt. We're way behind the Czechs and about on par with ethnic Germans, Poles and Balts. The total quantity consumed is about 475 million litres, for a population (Republic only) of 4.6 million. Which shows how goofy some of these out-trotted statistics are: for per capita beer consumption we're talking per every head in the country including those that have just emerged from the womb.  ANNyway, every day 1.3 million litres of beer goes down Irish throats.

There were in 2011, a record low number N = 162 of road fatalities. Which is the result of an extraordinary collective effort to reduce this toll of unnecessary death - as recently as 2005 there were 396 deaths on Irish roads. In any year about a quarter of the dead are pedestrians and maybe 3% cyclists. I'd guess that half of them have drink taken so there is a drink-related death on the Irish roads one day in every five.  I've suggested before that, as the Irish government has a commendable policy of reducing road deaths and as RTE, the state broadcaster has a less commendable policy of reporting every road fatality on the national news, it would be a useful standard operating procedure SOP to report the blood alcohol level of every dead car driver.  But I'm not particularly interested in beer-induced road deaths, I trying to get an estimate of beer-induced any deaths.  Irish Water Safety are getting a lot of airtime this weather and they say 1/3 of 150 annual deaths by drowning involve The Drink. Because of their ear for ghoulish quirkiness, the RTE news-editors told us a couple of weeks ago about a young woman, a wedding guest, seriously injured because she had fallen from a hotel's first floor balcony head-first onto the roof of  car parked below. Would you agree that the odds are Lombard Street to a china orange that alcohol was involved? I'd hazard a guess that every two days there is an alcohol related accidental death in Ireland: half of them (0.5 x ~162/365) from cars, 1/6th from drowning, the rest from other situations where machinery and alcohol don't mix: PTOs on farms, chain-saws, lawn-mowers, gas-ovens, ladders and I'd guess a lot of plain young man silliness like the neknomination craze that swept one of our students to death earlier this year. Let's note that 50% of the alcohol consumption is beer, down from 70% 20 years ago - we are. like continental sophisticates, delicately sipping a lot more wine nowadays.

Thus every day in Ireland somebody gets killed because somebody has drunk too much beer (those somebodies are often the same person). Over the same period, 2.6 million litres of good ale, refreshing lager and nutritious stout have been drunk, giving hundreds of thousands of people a chance to cool down a hot curry, restore fluids after some strenuous Summer work outdoors, lubricate an awkward conversation or, indeed, achieve a temporary oblivion from their private hell.

Me, I don't think we should follow out-gone Health Minister James Reilly in banning cigarettes.  I guess the tobacco lobby have won that battle now that Reilly has been reshuffled to a different government position.  Kevin Byrne has opened the debate about imaginative proposals to balance the the cost of beer-driven death vs the clear-and-present benefit of beer in rural Ireland. Neither of us have really considered the general life-shortening aspects (cirrhosis, heart-disease, cancer, dementia) of excessive alcohol consumption: I'll clearly have to come back here wearing a different hat. There is something repellent when government mounts the white horse of moral crusade and legislates to prevent something of which it disapproves. Romeo and Juliet laws spring to mind. In framing legislation you research relevant data and extrapolate imagined scenarios and write the law in best legalese. The Irish Council for Bioethics thought long and debated hard about end-of-life issues but there will be a particular and peculiar set of circumstances that aren't covered by their wording for advanced healthcare directives.  A helluva a lot of road-miles are driven with alcohol on board for each fatality but no sane person believes that we can eliminate road deaths entirely even if we make drink-driving a capital offense.

No comments:

Post a Comment