Is it time to hit food and alcohol intake?
Most smokers don’t smoke “sensibly” – it’s an addiction. How long then can we continue to delude ourselves about the vain fantasy of “sensible drinking”?
While we can propound, with some certainty, that if alcohol and nicotine were to be discovered tomorrow, they would both be immediately banned, we still allow prominent alcohol promotion and generally view it as a pleasant and desirable social agent.
Exactly what ratio of “sensible” drinking to “non-sensible” drinking is needed before alcohol becomes anywhere near the social pariah that smoking has now become? “Smoking Kills” the packets tell us but all we get with our alcohol purchases is the avuncular “Drink Sensibly”.
The argument has been made that the disparity here is all down to the drinks lobby having a more advanced and sophisticated PR machine than the smoking lobby could ever dream of.
Research just published in Canada shows that introducing minimum pricing on alcohol has a direct effect in decreasing alcohol-related deaths.
The findings, in the Addiction journal, show that a rise in alcohol price of 10 per cent leads to a reduction in consumption of alcoholic drinks by 32 per cent. It finds that when drink prices rose, there were “immediate, substantial and significant reductions” in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol abuse. The Canadian study is the first to highlight the effects on mortality of alcohol minimum pricing.
But if the alcohol lobby looks up to anybody, it’s to the certain sectors of the food lobby. Journalist Jacque Peretti’s eye-opening documentary series about the food industry on BBC earlier last year, The Men Who Made Us Fat, showed exactly how when certain areas of the food industry were faced with their equivalent of that first “smoking causes lung cancer” study, they either chose to ignore or suppress the data which showed that certain food substances were linked to cardiovascular disease and a series of equally nasty conditions.
As far back as 1972, John Yudkin, one of the leading nutritionists of his time, wrote a book called Pure, White and Deadly which argued the case for a link between sugar and heart disease. No government would touch Yudkin’s findings.
In 2003, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was about to issue a report to set worldwide limits on the amount of sugar in our diet. The US Sugar Association wrote to the WHO, saying that $406 million (€300 million) of US WHO funding would be withdrawn if the sugar limit report went ahead.
Along with six other big food industry groups, the US Sugar Association approached then US Health Secretary, Tommy Thompson, who flew to Geneva to argue against the publication of the WHO report. It remains unpublished.
By all means legislate against nicotine to the point of its near criminalisation but if health and wellbeing is the lodestar here, let’s start to put the frighteners on alcohol and bad food. “Drink sensibly” and “Five a Day” just aren’t going to cut it.