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More hilarity with statistics

So according to our neoprohibitionist friends at BBC news, the Scots drink 46 bottles of vodka a year, each.

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.

So, another non-story then.



David Strange

Another incisive, analytical and well-composed article, Mr Brown, the kind of stuff one wants to read.

You picked more holes in that drivel-filled report and did so more effectively than I managed in the rant on my site. I am perfectly happy to play second (or even third or fourth) fiddle to right-thinking people who express themselves so well.

David Strange

You got a different figure for the number of bottles of vodka consumed per person because you calculated bottles as being 750ml. Most bottles of spirits are 700ml. That being said, if my mental arithmetic is up to it then this should only be adding just under three bottles to the total you derived.

Sorry for bringing up this pedant's point (well, not so much a point more a specific location of zero volume in space). If we argue against the neo-pros our data and analysis must be better than theirs.


40 x 750ml bottles of 40% ABV liquid

Vodka, like all spirits, is actually sold in 700 ml bottles, which at 40% ABV contain 28 units.

So in fact that's 21.5 units a week, or the equivalent of one and a third pints of 4% beer every day.

Which hardly sounds like dangerous drinking to me.

David Strange

Ah I've worked out where the 46 bottles of vodka number comes from. They were calculating that number by assuming 700ml bottles of a rather weedy 37.5%. SoThey either think that Scots drinkers only buy the very cheapest vodka or they used this weak alcohol level to make the number of bottles of vodka look more impress


I am really bad at math so I am happy to be corrected but isn't this the case?

– Scotland has about 8% of the UK population and
– total UK booze sales in 2007 were worth over 41 billion pounds and
– therefore, Scotland's booze sales can be approximated at around 4 billion pounds.

I read that as meaning that if every penny of the 25 million spent at distillery shops was non-Scots resident alcohol sales, removing it entirely from Scottish consumption, it only represents well under 1% of total Scottish sales? If that is the case, the variation is under a bottle of vodka a year.

Even if I am off by a whole decimal point and the distillery sales represent 10% of sales isn't it still a little bit alarming that every Scots adult averages 41 or 42 bottles of vodka a year?

Warning: .pdf source.

Pivní Filosof

Funny, I associate Scotland and Whisky so much that when I started reading this I read "46 bottles of WHISKY a year".

Regardless whether is Whisky, Vodka, Rum or Cachaça, the statistics are twisted, misinterpreted, misleading, whatever. Why they do it? What is their gain from it? Can it be possible that all this is the product of a bunch of sour people that have formed an unholly alliance with the tabloids?


I suspect they chose vodka over whisky because, as of 2008, vodka outsells whisky in both on- and off-licensed premises in Scotland.

Great post, though.


They used vodka instead of whiskey partly because it's percieved as dirty and low rent and so paints a bleak picture of lonely soaks sat in bleak flats a row of 46 clear cheerless indutrial alcohol vodka bottles in front of them slowly joylessly gulping back the firey poison. They can't at anytime link their claims to anything positive or the cracks in their logic will start to show.


There was a doctor on morning tv today saying that Butter should be banned due to heart disease! The nanny state is going mad, next it will be cars because of road deaths,sweets because of tooth decay,blogs because of eye strain ans sex because its not fair that some people aint getting as much as some others.


coxy did they day butter or was it trans-fat? In the rports i read it was all transfat (which I believe is man made substance with mixed health benefits) couldn't see butter mentioned. That being said onece the neo-pros get their dander up they have living off air and sitting on spikes given half a chance.


Now I understand. I thought 46 bottles of vodka on top of all the industrial white cider and Tennants Super was rather a lot.

Joking aside, it's rather poor of the NHS to release such a disingenious report as it making them far less likely to be listened to if they have something valid to say. Poor show.


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