Friday, May 09, 2008

Drinking on the tube

Really bad reason to oppose Boris's ban on drinking on the tube

From Dave:

"Mayor Johnson, as we know, opposed the smoking ban. His voting history on the issue can be found on The noxious fumes produced by the evil weed were not, it would seem, enough in Mr Johnson’s opinion to warrant an
intrusion on people’s liberty and bar and pub workers would have to lump it; they could, of course, choose to be out of a job at any time if their health was such a big issue.

At Old Street station, there is a sign up announcing that alcohol will be banned from the first of June on public transport. The occasional drunken idiot is now more of a threat than smoking, which the World Health Organisation considers to be behind 26% of male deaths and 9% of female deaths in the developed world."

There is no hypocrisy here. The justification for Boris' ban on alcohol is that it leads to drunks on the tube threatening other people. When that happens the Millian sphere has been violated.

Therefore, the proper comparison isn't deaths from smoking but deaths from passive smoking. Those World Health Organisation figures are entirely irrelevant to this debate. The evidence for the dangers of passive smoking is very weak - see Richard North & Christopher Booker's impeccably sourced book for the full story of how weak.

Really good reason to oppose Boris's ban on drinking on the tube

From DK:

"I gave the example of consuming one beer on the way home; it was very pleasant, since from Southfields to Earl's Court is, like 55% of the Tube, not actually underground. The sun was streaming through the windows, the carriage was about only about half full, my Private Eye was interesting, and the gentle rocking of the train was complemented by my lovely bottle of cool ale.

The ale was all the more welcome since my colleague, who gives me a lift from Ockham to Southfields, needed to drop into the supermarket (where I had bought my beer) to buy his week's supplies and I didn't even get onto the Tube until nearly seven in the evening. With an hour on the Tube ahead of me, the beer really appealed."

I fail to see how banning drinking is easier than banning drunk and disorderly behaviour. Stick to banning drunk and disorderly behaviour. If you do so you'll allow a lot of people a little pleasure having a quiet drink on their way home. Those are the small happinesses that we lose to illiberalism.


Dave Cole said...

From the WHO report I link to on my post:

"[...] attention is not often given to common, chronic and low-level risks to health, such as passive exposure to tobacco smoke"

pp 42

"There is increasing evidence that ETS [environmental tobacco smoke - passive smoking] causes heart disease and it has been estimated to cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. There is evidence that even short-term exposures to ETS can increase the risk of coronary thrombosis by increasing blood platelet aggregation"

Box 4.1, pp66

"Over time, legislation has increasingly acknowledged the strong evidence about the harmful effect of passive smoking, more commonly referred to as second-hand tobacco smoke."


You also rather selectively quote my post, as I said, as you did, that it was targeting the wrong problem in the wrong way.


Matthew Sinclair said...


So you acknowledge that the figures you quoted are spin, irrelevant to this debate?

I can't find my copy of Booker & North's book but I'll dig it up later if I can, so I've got the precise studies. Suffice it to say that the most robust and large-scale studies found little effect.

Even if I were to accept your WHO quotes I have two points about them:

a) There's a lot of couching going on there; "it has been estimated" is a classic.

b) NHS underperformance, measured by mortality amenable to healthcare relative to EU peers, kills 17,000 a year in the UK alone. In that context, "tens of thousands of premature deaths each year" world wide is (as a high and doubtful estimate) not as formidable as it first sounds.

I'm not convinced you got it right in the sections of your post I left out either. It would, and will, be possible to ban drinking on the tube. The RMT's bitching ignores the fact that there is a ban on drinking on overground station platforms that is effective. Why can station staff manage a ban but not underground staff?

You said that you would like zero drinking on the tube which seemed to suggest you disagree with what I see as the important argument against this measure; that the liberty to have a drink on a train is a small happiness we shouldn't unnecessarily trample on.

I don't think "too much drinking" , in general, is the problem. Too much drunk and disorderly is the issue.

Dave Cole said...


Again, if you read my post, you will see that I am making a comparison. It's not perfect, but it holds up. If you take the time to read the WHO report (including the figures I quote), you will see that passive smoking is a significant part of the 26% and 9% figures. Within the Millian sphere, however, it is enough if a single person is adversely affected.

"The RMT's bitching ignores the fact that there is a ban on drinking on overground station platforms that is effective. Why can station staff manage a ban but not underground staff?"

Simple. There are staff at most stations. Stations are not enclosed spaces. Stations are not moving. There are not staff on most carriages. Carriages are enclosed spaces where fleeing an attacker is nigh-on impossible. Carriages are moving, making it harder for assistance to be brought to them.

You might also want to check your facts about drinking being banned on station platforms. It's not covered in the National Rail Conditions of Carriage and, given that you can buy alcohol on some trains in London, I'd say it's on dodgy ground.

You complained about my using 'couched' language and then had the temerity to deliberately misinterpret my words. I said:

"Don’t get me wrong - I’d rather people didn’t drink on public transport. However, I think there are better ways to tackle the issue and better places to spend the resources committed to this idea. It is, however, an eyecatching headline that every Londonder will at least notice because of the signs going up at every tube station."

At no point did I say that my preference should result in an outright ban. Indeed, I even said in a comment on the post that "[t]o be honest, I’m not that bothered by it, but I’d rather they didn’t [drink]."


Matthew Sinclair said...


There is no way that passive smoking can "cause tens of thousands of deaths" and be a significant part of 26% of male or 9% of female deaths in the entire developed world. The two figures don't stack up at all. If you have some evidence that they do then provide me a page number and I'll look it up. It seems to me that you're trying to conflate the high number of deaths from smoking with the low number who die from passive smoking (if it does pose a significant health risk, which I don't think it does).

As for this:

"Within the Millian sphere, however, it is enough if a single person is adversely affected."

What on Earth are you talking about? What does "enough" mean?

The Millian sphere is designed to tell you which harms social policy is justified in interfering to prevent. You then need to decide if the harm is severe enough to be worth draconian policy. There is no single "enough".

I am pretty certain drinking is banned on stations. The guy who made me and my mates stop drinking our Budwards didn't seem the type to enforce a made-up rule out of spite.

As to some unique difficulty enforcing rules on carriages. Ticket inspectors face all the same challenges. While they'll get shit every so often that's true of plenty of service careers (and any attempt to enforce order on the tube and buses).

I haven't misinterpreted your words at all. I'm not saying that you endorsed a ban. I'm saying that you would rather not have people drinking on the tube and, therefore, don't appear to appreciate the value people place on an occassional quiet drink while travelling - the small happiness myself and DK discussed.

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