Are we too soft on alcohol?

On June 9, 2011, in alcohol, by Karen Grepin

A recent editorial in PLoS medicine asks:

If medical journals and public health advocates are concerned with corporate conflicts of interest, inappropriate marketing to children, impotent self-regulation, and general flouting of the rules, why are we ignoring the alcohol industry?

Good question. But I think the answer is pretty easy to answer: most of us like to drink. Plus, we have convinced ourselves that it is even a very good thing for our health – a little bit of red wine after all is associated with lower cardiovascular disease (even those who are so hell bent on needing experimental evidence to support any fact seem content to accept this correlation). But the data show that the picture is not always so rosy:

But the independent statistics defy this rosy view: the Global Burden of Disease study places alcohol-related morbidity second only to tobacco in the developed world [5], teenage drinking problems have been shown to have long term effects on individuals and communities [6], and a recent European-wide study [7] found that 10% of cancers in men and 3% in women were linked to alcohol consumption.

It reminds me about the bias that the public heath and medical community had against the perception that smoking was health hazard because again a large portion of physicians and other health officials smoked. In reading the Emperor of All Maladies I learned that at least once of the authors of the original case control study that showed the associated the overwhelming association between smoking and cancer had initially agreed to do the study with the original goal of “putting to bed” any concerns that in fact the linkage was real. He apparently quit smoking soon after his study results were published.

It does seem strange that we – as the global public health community – have taken a much harder stand against the tobacco industry and worry a great deal about risk factors that cause much less of the global burden of disease than alcohol. Is it time that we sober up and take a take a closer look? Is a global framework convention on alcohol the next step?

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10 Responses to “Are we too soft on alcohol?”

  1. Karen Grepin says:

    Are we too soft on alcohol (blog post)? #globalhealth #publichealth

  2. Are we too soft on alcohol (blog post)? #globalhealth #publichealth

  3. Annie says:

    You raise an important point, but a key issue that has to be considered in any conversation on changing drinking behaviors is that much of the planet’s human population co-evolved with alcohol. Until recently, safe water supplies were only possible with fermentation. Drinking is woven into far more aspects of various cultures than smoking. The irony is not lost on me that when I work to replace alcohol in a cultural routine that otherwise includes it, I usually turn to tea–that other safe water tradition.

  4. Arogya World says:

    An interesting read on alcohol and #NCDs RT @KarenGrepin: Are we too soft on alcohol?

  5. Are we too soft on alcohol (blog post)? #globalhealth #publichealth

  6. Brian says:

    Most public health problems are not, fundamentally, scientific problems. They are social matters, and matters of equity and sense. Smoking causes problems (but nicotine is also a “smart drug” look it up). Alcohol causes problems. So does marijuana. So do many illegal drugs.

    But it causes huge problems to over-fight them. Witness the drug war and the clogging of our nation’s prisons. Witness the support of terrorism by the illegal drug trade.

    Any time we talk about public health issues that are not contagious disease, we need to be very cautious.

    • Brian says:

      There are other linkages to make. The introduction of coffee changed Europe from a group of inebriated nations to a group of nations charged up on caffeine. Revolutions are arguably traceable to this change, as is the reformation, etc.

  7. An interesting read on alcohol and #NCDs RT @KarenGrepin: Are we too soft on alcohol?

  8. ncdalliance says:

    An interesting read on alcohol and #NCDs RT @KarenGrepin: Are we too soft on alcohol?

  9. […] Am I the only one concerned? How does this fit with the recent call by the PLoS editors and Karen Grepin for alcohol to be subject to the same scrutiny as […]

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