As an individual with a life history littered with alcohol-related misdemeanours, poor choices, and outright foolishness, I feel qualified to draw your attention to a situation that continues to bemuse me, the more so after the recent events of the federal election where money and power were again wielded with considerable success…but, back to my topic.
I ask you, dear reader, how it can be that should you choose to buy a tobacco product – in this country at least – where the immense monetary power and influence of the tobacco industry has failed to hold sway against the substantial weight of health research evidence, your purchase will be adorned with the most grisly images and dire health warnings, consistent with the health risks we know attend the consumption of such products. Tobacco is a class one carcinogen, a fact which was alluded to in a landmark research paper in 19501. It took until December 1 2012 for this to become enshrined in law, and most will be familiar with the bitter battles fought through the courts by those unfortunate individuals who were successfully targeted by the tobacco industry’s seductive advertising, having fallen victim to the now well-known powerful addictive properties of nicotine, and the deadly sequellae associated with the use of tobacco products.
How can it be then, that alcohol, which holds the same WHO cancer classification as tobacco (Class 1), a fact which was made clear in a WHO publication assessing the global impact of alcohol consumption as far back as 19742 , can be purchased in a dizzying array of attractive colourful packaging, with scant or no warning as to the considerable weight of evidence which attests to the adverse health outcomes associated with the consumption of alcohol. Despite similar potential for harm as tobacco, alcohol is free to seduce the unwary to purchase, without so much as a “beware”.
And in a chilling parallel to the tobacco industry, which ruthlessly targeted the young to recruit its next generation of addicts, as the previous ones died out, the alcohol industry similarly goes out of its way to associate a glamorous image with its products, such that the young – a major focus of the industries’ advertising – are seduced.
Sadly, what this means is that the young are over represented in alcohol-related deaths through misadventure (accidents, overdose/toxicity episodes, violence and assaults, domestic violence, road trauma, drownings, etc.).
WHO estimates that alcohol directly contributes to 2.5 million premature deaths each year, approximately 4% of the human deaths worldwide (1 in 25). It is a direct cause of at least 60 known diseases, and is implicated in at least 200 other serious health conditions2. It is undeniably linked to cancers of the female breast, oropharyngeal cancers, oesophageal cancers, stomach, pancreas and colorectal cancer, and liver cancer3.
It is impossible to estimate the cost of alcohol on a global scale, as the harms go well beyond the death toll (foetal alcohol syndrome, domestic violence, child neglect, non-fatal assault and accidents, loss of productivity, alcohol dependency syndromes, etc.). The drain on society’s resources is incalculable, and outstrips the cost of all other recreational drugs put together.
So how can it be, again I say, that we can purchase such a toxic substance with such relative ease (there’s a bottle shop on every corner or at least in every supermarket!) blissfully unaware of the potential for our purchase to harm ourselves, and those we care about, especially our young.
Look no further than that which recently played such an important role in the Australian political landscape; money and power.
The alcohol lobby is an immensely well-funded and powerful juggernaut. Of the now thousands of research papers published attesting to the dangers of the alcohol, how many make it into mainstream media to warm the consumer, particularly the young, of the risks? Yep, you guessed it; zip, zero, nada.
How many successful actions have been launched in the courts by victims of alcohol related-health conditions? Enlighten me please; I know of none.
I await the day that came for the tobacco industry, and must someday come also for the alcohol industry, when it will be held to account for the harm it has caused humanity, with full knowledge of the potential harm, without any attempt warn the consumer of the known risks of consumption. The premature deaths, the drink-fuelled violence, the impact on those peripheral to the drinker, the colossal impact in terms of cost to our society, I could go on, but at the risk of boring you…
Till then, if I have managed to have you look somewhat more soberly at your Sauv Blanc, or perhaps decline that second red, I may have made one of the most effective health interventions I could hope for in my career; and no fee applies!
Dr Alan Underwood
3.Wikipedia . “Alcohol and Cancer”