There are two major areas where advocates of prohibitionist policies with respect to alcohol use have attempted to bias the policy debate with corrupted science: the health benefits and risks of moderate drinking and the effects of alcohol advertising on youth drinking and overall consumption.
The Health Benefits of Moderate Drinking
Although there is substantial evidence of the health benefits of moderate drinking, there has been a continued campaign on the part of many alcohol opponents to suppress or deny these findings. For instance, Harvard epidemiologist Carl Seltzer, a co-investigator on the Framingham study, found positive effects of moderate drinking on heart disease 25 years ago. Seltzer was denied permission to publish these results by the US National Heart and Lung Institute on the grounds that an article about such results would be “scientifically misleading and socially undesirable in view of the major problem of alcoholism that already exists in the country.” (C. Seltzer, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 1997 50: 627-629, “Conflicts of Interest” and “political science”)
Moreover, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms continues this official suppression of the truth about the benefits of moderate drinking by refusing to allow brewers, vintners and distillers to make any claims about the benefits of using alcohol, “regardless of their truthfulness”, on the grounds that such claims would be misleading given the “harmful societal effects arising from the consumption of alcohol.”
The Health Risks of Moderate Drinking
In tandem with the continued suppression of the evidence regarding the benefits of moderate drinking, there is also a continued effort to inflate the risks of moderate consumption by claiming as a recent study did that there “doesn’t seem to be a threshold at which alcohol consumption is safe.” The most recent attempt was published in 2009 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which reported a study led by Naomi Allen from Oxford University on the cancer risks to women from even modest alcohol consumption. (N. Allen et al Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women Journal of National Cancer Institute 2009 101:296-305)
Allen told the UK Guardian, “Given that this is the largest study in the world to look at this, it’s clear that even at low levels of alcohol consumption, there does seem to be a very significant increase in cancer risk, and most women are probably not aware of that.”
In her comments to the US media, Allen attempted to be even more frightening, telling the Washington Post that the “take-home message” was this: “If you are regularly drinking even one drink per day, that’s increasing your risk for cancer [since] there doesn’t seem to be a threshold at which alcohol consumption is safe.”
Allen’sresults, however, fail to support these alarming claims about the risks of even modest drinking. First, Allen reports that the incidence of all types of cancer studied in its non-drinking subjects was 5.7% compared with 5.3% for those subjects who had at least a drink a day and up to 14 drinks a week. So not only was there no dose-response in terms of cancer risk, but teetotallers had a higher population incidence of cancer than those consuming up to 14 drinks a week. This hardly comports with an increased risk of cancer for moderate drinkers.
Second, even those women in the study who drank the most (15 or more drinks per week) had a cancer incidence of 5.8%, which is virtually identical to those who drank nothing.
Third, the study looked at 21 types of cancer incidence. Of these, it found statistically significant associations between drinking and only four types of cancer. Moreover, even these associations were barely significant. The association with breast cancer, with by far the largest number of cases in the study (almost 22,000) was non-significant.
Far then from supporting Allen’s alarmist claims about the cancer risks of moderate drinking for women, Allen et al’s results actually refute them.