It's a shocking statistic - an average of almost a bottle of vodka a week for every single person aged over 18. But is it as bad as it sounds?
I've checked the calculation - 12 litres of pure alcohol per person - the level of sales from which this figure is derived = 40 x 750ml bottles of alcohol at 40% - not 46 bottles then, but 40. They also claim this is the equivalent of 537 pints of beer or 130 bottles of wine. I did my own calculation based on 4% beer and 12.5% wine and got the same figure, so I'm obviously doing my calculations the same way they are. I checked all leading brands of vodka and they're 40% ABV. So the people working out this figure are either pretending vodka is less strong than we all think it is, in order to deliberately bump up the number of bottles, or they've got their sums wrong. If they're going to alarm us like this, you'd think they could at least get their fucking maths right.
40 bottles a year still sounds like a lot though. And this time, I have no figures to contradict what's being said here, but let's look at it more closely from a few different angles:
- If it was as bad as it is being made to sound, Scotland wouldn't function as a country. It gives the impression that every adult is a harmful drinker. And while Scotland does have issues with drink, the country is not collapsing.
- The BBC report claims that this figure is the equivalent to every adult drinking an average of 26 units of alcohol a week. Suddenly, that doesn't sound quite as bad. But I checked this calculation too - 40 x 750ml bottles of 40% ABV liquid = a round 1200 units of alcohol a year. Divided by 52 weeks, that actually comes to 23.1 units a week - not 26 as is claimed in the piece. The 537 pints of 4% beer gives you an average of 23.5 units a week, and the 130 bottles of 12.5% wine gives you a weekly 23.25. So once again, the people making the calculations can't use a fucking calculator properly. An average of 23.1 units a week for every adult? OK, it's still over government guidelines, but not by much. As an average it does mean many people a drinking quite a bit more than they should, but not close to harmful levels. Oh and hang on...
- These figures are based on alcohol sold in Scotland - just over 50 million litres last year. What is Scotland famous for? Vodka? No, whisky. So why is the headline about vodka? Why does it not say 'Scots drink 40 bottles of whisky each every year'? Why not? Because if it were, you might make the link between alcohol sales in Scotland and tourism. Tourism is worth £4.2 billion to the Scottish economy, employing 8% of the total workforce. And whisky is a massive part of that. One million foreign tourists visit Scotch whisky distilleries every year, spending a total of £25 million - and rising (source: ScotlandWhisky). I can't make the calculations, but I'm betting a big chunk of that £25 million is spent on bottles of whisky. And that's just what these tourists are spending on distillery tours - what else are they spending in bars, pubs and restaurants on alcohol, while on their holidays? And total annual tourist numbers to Scotland come in at 2.5 million - and rising (source: Scottish government). It's incredible that two in five tourists come to Scotland to visit distilleries, but a huge chunk of those who don't visit distilleries still drink. Whatever their total consumption it's going to account for a sizeable chunk of the 50 million litres of pure alcohol sold in Scotland every year. But every single dram those 2.5 million tourists drink, every single bottle the 1 million distillery visitors buy at the end of their tours, is being included in the figure for what the indigenous Scottish population puts away. In the piece, rising alcohol consumption in Scotland is blamed on cheap prices - the fact that tourism is increasing year on year is not considered.