The land of Irish whiskey and world renowned beer is being threatened by an anti-alcohol agenda. Irish health officials are pursuing legislation that would require alcohol companies to include labels on their products warning consumers of the supposed link between alcohol and cancer.
The proposal is reminiscent of a time when public health officials in the United States were fighting to publicize the link that legitimately exists between tobacco products and cancer during the tail end of the 20th century. Fortunately, those particular efforts were successful and cigarette smoking has been curtailed.
But while the tactics of the tobacco labeling campaign of the past and their revival around alcohol seem similar, alcohol is very different from tobacco products.
It’s widely accepted that tobacco merchandise — such as cigarettes, cigars and the various other forms — pose a threat to one’s health and begin with the first incident of consumption. However, it’s important to note that the effects of alcohol on health do not follow the same pattern.
Yes, consistently consuming 10 drinks a day is associated with adverse health effects, but these consequences don’t apply to moderate and responsible consumers that enjoy a daily glass of their favorite beer, wine or spirit. In fact, a large body of work suggests quite the opposite — revealing that moderate consumption is tied to a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia among other conditions.
A 2015 scholarly article even shows a positive relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and longevity of life when compared to lifelong alcohol abstainers. According to their analysis, a protective health effect seems to exist when consuming between one and three drinks per day — revealing a j-shape relationship curve.
A similar trend was found in a 2011 study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It revealed a slight decrease in cancer deaths among light and moderate alcohol consumers when compared to lifelong abstainers. Although this connection may not be as robust as with other health conditions and while some other studies do allude to a slight correlation between some cancers and alcohol intake, one thing is for certain: Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t contribute to a meaningful increase in the overall risk of cancer. There are numerous other factors that play much bigger roles that should be the focus of study and public education.
However, this nuance is not being portrayed in the American media. Headlines like “Just one alcoholic drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer, study says” and “Cancer Doctors Cite Risks of Drinking Alcohol” are increasingly prevalent — even though the notions are overhyped and conclusions lack context.
Although the battle to link responsible alcohol consumption and adverse health effects through labeling is currently being waged on another continent, it’s obvious that the seeds of these ideas are already being planted in Yankee territory and are a preview of legislative action to come. And as we’ve seen before, these misguided anti-alcohol policies always begin overseas.
Look no further than what just occurred in Utah. State lawmakers recently dropped the blood-alcohol arrest level for driving from the nationally recognized 0.08 BAC to 0.05 BAC — the first to do so in the nation. The move essentially outlaws the consumption of little alcohol prior to getting behind the wheel — even though driving at 0.05 has been scientifically proven to be far less dangerous than talking on a hands free cellphone. And now active legislative efforts attempting to do the same thing have spread to New York, Delaware, Washington and Hawaii.
It’s no coincidence that this idea first took root in Europe and was used as a main talking point to give 0.05 laws a foothold in the United States. Anti-alcohol agendas, instead of meticulous research and settled science, will similarly be behind future activism.
Don’t let public health officials in the United States tie moderate and responsible social drinking to the same deadly effects of legitimately dangerous behaviors. Most things in moderation are healthy, but agenda-driven science and overblown reporting most definitely are not.