The great alcohol cover-up: how public health hid the truth about drinking

The text below is the basis of a talk given by Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, at the Spectator annual health debate 2016. The debate was entitled: ‘Can we trust health advice?’

Before answering the question of whether we can trust health advice we must first ask: ‘Which health advice?’ It varies so much over time and between countries. In 1979, the government advised men to drink no more than 56 units of alcohol a week. This was later reduced to 36 units, then 28 units and then 21 units. Last month, the Chief Medical Officer reduced it once again, this time to 14 units. Upon announcing this, she also asserted that there is no safe level of drinking and that the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption were ‘an old wives tale’.

Male drinking guidelines vary enormously around the world, from 52 units a week in Fiji to 35 units in Spain, all the way down to seven units in Guyana. There is no other country in the world that has the same guidelines as the UK. The day after Sally Davies released her report, the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism announced the results of its review of alcohol guidelines and maintained the recommendation for men of up to 25 units per week. This government organisation estimates that 26,000 deaths a year are prevented by moderate alcohol consumption thanks to reduced risk from heart disease, diabetes and stroke. In America, the guidelines for women are lower than they are for men, as they are in all but a handful of countries worldwide. Britain is now one of the few.

Therefore, in order to trust this latest piece of health advice from our Chief Medical Officer, we must believe not only that every previous Chief Medical Officer got it wrong but that every other country in the world has got it wrong. That requires a degree of patriotism that I am unable to summon up, particularly since the current advice bears no relationship whatsoever to the scientific evidence.

graph_small

The graph represents the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality. It is, I think, well known that the relationship is J-shaped. This particular J-curve is based on 34 prospective epidemiological studies which collect data on how much people drink and then follow them over a period of years with a view to seeing if they die and what they die of. As this graph shows, the risk of death declines substantially at low levels of alcohol consumption and then rises, but it does not reach the level of a teetotaller until the person is consuming somewhere between 40 and 60 grams of alcohol a day, which is to say between 35 and 50 units a week.

This J-shaped association was identified decades ago and has been repeatedly shown in studies from around the world. There are people in the temperance and ‘public health’ lobbies who do not want to accept the benefits of alcohol consumption. As a result, this epidemiological finding has been subject to more scrutiny than anything else in the field of alcohol research. It is precisely because it has been subjected to the greatest scrutiny that we know it to be robust.

It has been suggested, for example, that some of the teetotallers in these studies are former heavy drinkers who are inherently less healthy because of their old drinking habits. To test this, studies have been conducted to compare people who have never drunk with people who drink moderately, but the association remains — the teetotallers still tend not to live as long.

It has also been suggested that teetotallers lead unhealthy lives in other respects, thus confounding the results. However, it turns out that lifelong teetotallers tend to lead healthier lives than drinkers, being less likely to smoke and more likely to have a better diet, so that doesn’t stand up as an explanation either.

The only real pitfall in this kind of research is the problem of people under-reporting how much they drink. The amount of alcohol sold in the UK is about twice the amount that people claim to drink, so unless we throw away a huge amount of booze, it is certain that people either forget about how much they drink or they deliberately lie to researchers. In either case, we can assume that the people who say they consume two drinks a day are probably consuming three or four drinks, in which case the amount that you have to drink to assume the same level of risk as a non-drinker is even more than this graph suggests.

What is a safe level of drinking? Sally Davies says there isn’t one. In so doing she is encouraging the public to believe that the only safe level is zero. But that is not what the epidemiology shows at all. It would appear that you can drink significantly more than 14 units a week — or two units a day — and have a lower mortality risk than a teetotaller.

Why would she misrepresent the evidence? I think there are two reasons.

If I may illustrate by analogy, when I first started secondary school at the age of 11, the teachers told us that we would be expected to do three or four hours of homework a night. Even at the time, this struck me as being optimistic on their part. I doubt that any of us were so conscientious. Speaking personally, I recall half an hour being the average, perhaps up to an hour on occasion.

Looking back, I think the teachers knew that we wouldn’t do three or four hours. I think they would have been very happy if we did one or two hours. They were doing something that behavioural economists call ‘anchoring’ — putting an unrealistically high number in our minds in the hope that we would settle for a lower number, but that the number would still be higher than the number we would have come up with if left to our own devices. If they had said we should do an hour, we might have settled for 20 minutes. If they had said half an hour, we might have settled for ten minutes.

That, I suspect, is what health authorities are doing when they tell us to have no more than seven drinks a week, or to have no more than seven teaspoons of sugar a day. We will probably exceed those guidelines, but we might think twice about exceeding them by two or three times — and those are the kind of levels at which health could genuinely be impaired.

If that’s what they’re doing, I think it’s a problem. Manipulating school children into doing their homework is one thing. Lying to adults about scientific evidence is quite another. The health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption are not an ‘old wives’ tale’, as Davies claims. They are supported by a huge body of evidence, but she doesn’t want us to be able to handle nuanced information. In public health, things are either good or bad, and she wants to portray alcohol as bad, hence the need to downplay the benefits and the rhetoric about there being ‘no safe level’. It’s nonsense, but it is a clear message and that’s what counts.

Second, there is a distinct possibility that these guidelines are not really aimed at us at all. The number of people who exceed the weekly drinking guidelines has been falling for years. By lowering the recommendations for men, Sally Davies has pulled two million more hazardous drinkers out of her hat. Similarly, although most people exceed the old sugar guidelines, sugar consumption has been falling for years. Now that the guidelines have been halved, it is almost impossible not to exceed them. By moving the goalposts, the problem is inflated, panic ensues, and the political agenda of the ‘public health’ lobby, with all its taxes, bans and gruesome warnings, is given a shot in the arm.

There is a telling comment in the minutes of one of the meetings held to reassess the drinking guidelines. It says that it is ‘important to bear in mind that, while guidelines might have limited influence on behaviour, they could be influential as a basis for government policies’. Influencing government policy is the real aim of the game. They don’t trust us to handle accurate information. As a result, we can no longer trust them to give us it.


  • aliswell

    The only item I would have liked to see added was a link or two to large-scale epidemiological studies demonstrating the benefits of moderate drinking.

    • david moloney

      Look at where the curves cross 1.0 on the y axis and there’s your answer

      On the leftmost curve its about 40g/day so if you drink below this limit there’s 95% confidence from the consensus studies you won’t negatively affect your mortality as I read it

      • Katabasis

        I’ve wondered about this myself, especially given prominent examples of cultures with no history of alcohol consumption who are suddenly introduced to it – e.g. native american indians.

        • Golfimbul77

          Native Americans and Native Alaskans a lot of Far East Asians and Se Asians lack the genes to metabolize alcohol. There was a reason the signs on old cowboy movies bars said no Indians allowed, they get hammered and stay hammered for weeks. As someone is married to a SE Asian believe me the last thing you want is to let them drink, never ever let them drink ever.

        • Bianca Errico

          The problem was not the sudden introduction of alcohol but the fact that at a genetic level American Indians lack a precise enzyme that processes alcohol.

          • Katabasis

            That’s pretty much what I was getting at.

  • James Pickett

    This is the Sally Davies who claims to think about her cancer risk every time she picks up a glass of wine. If that’s true, she must be well addicted to the stuff…

  • Pedalling Pete

    Further lies need to be investigated over proposals to lower the drink/drive alcohol limits. Has anyone yet got evidence of lives saved in Scotland after their change? I’d guess it’s far too soon to get the annual statistics for a year after implementation, then normalise and standardise them to draw conclusions. Yet not one reporter seems to have asked for evidence. Anyone at The Spectator? The public wrongly believe alcohol is the cause of every crash where driver is over the limit. That cannot possibly be true. The majority of road crashes are with sober drivers – well over 90% if I recall the BBC reporter when Scotland changed their law. So the causes were many but not alcohol. Stay with me here: Those factors remain as causal even if the driver has drunk alcohol. So over 90% of crashes by drunk drivers are not caused by alcohol. It’s my guess that where alcohol was the real and only cause, then the driver had ignored the limits. So will changing the limits to a lower level have any effect on those drivers? Of course not. If my observations above are correct, then the change in the legal drink/drive level will have little or any effect on saving lives. What it will do is put points on driving licences. get more money for insurance companies, and increase the rate of closure of public houses. Don’t let the politicians mislead the public and once again demonise responsible drinkers.

    • Chris Barker

      That’s a different set of probabilities, similar to using a mobile while driving, I believe. Your reactions to unforeseen circumstances, your ability to process new information and the elevated levels of your own standards of driving all suffer after drinking. Similarly with piloting an aircraft: there is no doubt that pilots continue to be able to fly an aircraft with certain levels of alcohol in their bodies, but their abilities are reduced outside process-driven requirements. And I wouldn’t want a pilot to test their alcohol resistance with me on board . . .

      • Pedalling Pete

        Agreed, but that doesn’t deal with the fact (as I understand it) that well over 90% of crashes involve sober drivers; the factors that cause those crashes still apply to a drunk driver. It is statistically incorrect to assume that alcohol plays any part in 90% of crashes involving drivers over the limit.

        • Chris Barker

          If that proportion is correct (and I wasn’t aware of it before now) removing the 10% is not a bad aim.

          • Pedalling Pete

            But you don’t understand! That 10% involves crashes where the driver has consumed alcohol and found to be over the limit. You make the assumption that all those drivers crash because they are over the limit. You assume it is alcohol that caused the driver to crash. I have tried to explain as clearly as possible that the factors that cause sober drivers to crash do not cease when alcohol is consumed: They still apply. Consequently those non-alcohol factors in over 90% of incidents involving drivers over the limit are the true cause of the crash, not the alcohol. They would have happened even if the driver had consumed no alcohol. And as I suggested, that very small proportion of crashes due solely to alcohol are likely to be caused by drivers who did not care if they were over the limit; so reducing that limit has no effect. Once you understand this, you can see that demonising drunk drivers will miss the point if you are trying to save lives. What is needed is to tackle the true causes of road fatalities – the 90%+ involving sober drivers. Yet as a recent Countryfile revealed, the Government’s Road Safety budget was cut from £177M in 2010 to £2M in 2012. That’s the budget tackling Accident Black Spots. So the Government are hiding their own role in not tackling road deaths, while blaming drivers.

          • Kodabar

            I see what you’re trying to say. But there’s a simple test to apply to your statistics. You’re saying that over 90% of crashes involve sober drivers. That’s almost certainly true, although I haven’t looked at any statistics.

            The simple test is to look at the proportion of accidents involving sober drivers and those who have been drinking and compare it with the overall number of drivers. If, for example, 10% of crashes involved drivers who had been drinking, does that tally with the overall number of drivers on the road who have been drinking? If the overall number of drivers who have been drinking is lower than 10%, then it shows that drivers who drink are more likely to be involved in accidents. If the overall number of drinking drivers is above 10%, then it shows that drivers who drink as less likely to be involved in accidents.

            Looking at some figures now. In the USA, the CDC says that 31% of all people killed in driving crashes were impaired by alcohol at the time. It doesn’t break that down into driver,s passengers, pedestrians, etc, but it does suggest that unless over a third of all American drivers have been drinking, drinkers have more crashes.
            http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

            The RAC Foundation reports that “between 210 and 270 people were killed in accidents in Great Britain where at least one driver was over the drink drive limit” that’s about 16% of fatalities. And that “6.2 per cent of drivers admitted to driving when they thought that they might have been over the drink drive limit”
            http://www.racfoundation.org/motoring-faqs/safety#a11

            So from this crude comparison, it would seem that drinkers are much more likely to have accidents. You’re quite right that the factors that cause sober drivers to crash are still present with drivers over the limit, so it’s difficult to determine exactly which factors caused a crash. But you can do these crude comparisons to see if drivers who drink tend to crash more often than those who do note. It won’t explain exactly what caused the crash, but it will give a basis for comparison.

            If you want to suggest that alcohol was the exacerbating factor in only a small proportion of crashes involving drivers over the limit, then I think you’ll need to show some evidence of that, even if it’s only a crude comparison akin to the one I produced here.

          • Pedalling Pete

            I agree that if you are involved in a crash due to the same factors that cause sober drivers to crash, then your response to try to avoid that crash may be impaired. But the crash would still have happened. I seriously doubt any official stats that try to attribute all crashes where alcohol exceeds an arbitrary and varying level to the consumption of alcohol. That is nonsense. Yet that is what the annual police drink/drive campaigns cause the public to believe; also the media and politicians. It’s an easy target. It’s non-PC to question that belief. Hence an unwillingness to get to the truth, and produce statistics. Now the Scottish change should be used to produce real evidence whether any lives are saved. Yet it is far too early to deduce any results. But that hasn’t stopped the politicians pre-empting any useful analysis. Since when have politicians been interested in evidence-based policies? Always knee-jerk reactions designed to appeal to the innumerate electorate.

          • Kodabar

            Quite. No one is ever going to make themselves popular by suggesting that not all crashes involving alcohol were caused or exacerbated by alcohol. I’m not sure if, or how, the role of alcohol in crashes is accounted for.

            But it does seem that drivers who have been drinking are involved in a disproportionate number of crashes. But then one wonders just how much lower the drink driving limits can be without simply making them practically zero.

            It will be interesting to see further research on this, but I doubt it will be held in much regard by those in authority. So much easier just to say they’re being ‘tough’ on alcohol and driving.

          • brianOO7

            Statistics I have seen (some years ago) showed that most fatal accidents ‘involving alcohol’ were cases where the blood/alcohol level was substantially (meaning two times or greater) higher than the legal limits (0.08 at the time). Few involved levels modestly above the legal limit. The legal limits were set, btw, in relation to lab tests of impaired reaction times, not in relation to on-road accident statistics.

          • Chris Barker

            Pete, a simple search turned up this website, https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/effects-on-your-safety/alcohol-related-accidents#facts. It doesn’t seem to support your 10% and neither do I. I’ve given you my perspective on doing anything complicated with alcohol so I’m afraid that it’s you who doesn’t understand. I don’t believe that drink is as insignificant as you make out.

          • Pedalling Pete

            You need to understand the agenda of Drinkaware – it seems to want to stop all alcohol consumption, whatever they may say. As I’ve said you need qualified statisticians to get to the truth, not those with their own agendas. The figures I quote were from a BBC reporter when the Scots changed their law. Just do the maths for yourself if over 90% of crashes involve sober drivers, and must therefore be due to factors not related to alcohol. Tell me how those factors cease to cause crashes if the driver consumes alcohol. I’d rather trust my maths than any statements by Drinkaware.

          • Chris Barker

            I accept that that is the website of a pressure group, but you have “quoted” nothing; you have only presented figures without any attribution or reference, which is why I went looking. Show us your sources.

          • Pedalling Pete

            The article by the Spectator was by a professional journalist who exposed the lies and mis-information concerning minimum safe levels of alcohol. It was not the first publication to expose this issue, but it was from a respected source. I posted on this site in the hope that a professional journalist would be alerted to the other great lie- where every crash involving a driver over the limit is attributed to alcohol, rather than understanding that is untrue. I suggested that qualified statisticians be asked to look at the mis-information before politicians mis-use the raw figures to justify changing the law. It is not my role as a “spectator” to do any more than comment; that was based on the figures quoted by a BBC reporter at the time of the Scots legal change. No one questioned those figures. The rush by politicians in England to follow the Scots, before there has been a proper analysis of this Scots change, suggests there is a misunderstanding by politicians, the media and to judge from posts here most of the public. It is knee-jerk politics. It has the effect of blaming drinkers for the large number of car crashes that are not caused by alcohol, but by other factors that the government does not want to address. BBC’s Countryfile recently quoted the reduction in funding of the local Road Safety Budgets, which deal with accident black spots, had dropped from £177M in 2010 to £2M in 2012. There is a clear mis-match between what the politicians are saying, blaming alcohol which costs them nothing, and what they are doing which is reducing expenditure leading to unnecessary deaths.

          • Jim Smith

            so you turned up an anti-drinking propaganda site….who cares what nonsense they say as it is all anti-drinking nonsense.

        • Windygirl

          In Pennsylvania, USA, 3/4 of all auto accidents were related to alcohol. Of the 10,000 plus accidents, 333 resulted in death due to alcohol. The same statistics state that 28% of all alcohol related accidents result in death, but I’m not seeing that in those numbers – any math wizards out there? Before I’m chastised for posting this, I’m not in favor of drunk driving, but I am in favor of honest numbers and reporting. The latter I have given up on, to tell the truth. Here’s the article (perhaps the fellow who wrote this misquoted the government statistics?): https://www.edgarsnyder.com/drunk-driving/drunk-driving-statistics.html

          • Pedalling Pete

            Whoa there! Who is saying 3/4 of crashes are related to alcohol. Are they saying “due to/caused by” alcohol, or simply those who crashed had consumed alcohol? My very point is that maybe more than 90% of the crashes where the driver has consumed alcohol would have happened if the driver had not consumed alcohol: The causes were the same as those that cause crashes for sober drivers. Those causes still apply regardless of alcohol. Alcohol does not stop the causes of crashes which affect “drunk” drivers; you still crash whether you are sober or drunk. It makes no difference. Except to the authorities who like to blame alcohol for every crash where the driver has consumed alcohol! If you want honest figures, then wait for the results of the Scottish experiment. I mean the figures for lives saved, not the number of police convictions which would increase simply because the politicians have instructed the police to carry out more tests! You need qualified statisticians involved, not politicians or police authorities who have their own agenda!

        • Peter Handy

          To judge that those factors still apply to drunk drivers in the same percentage as sober drivers, is as much of an much an assumption as assuming that drink was the sole cause.

          • Pedalling Pete

            OK, but it is a reasonable assumption that the factors that cause the majority of crashes, not involving alcohol as at accident black spots, will still apply to drunk drivers. If you are suggesting that the accident black spot will attract an increase in accidents because some drunk drivers might have not crashed at that point had they been sober, yes, that is a reasonable assumption. I think it is a reasonable starting point in the absence of hard facts, to believe that drunk drivers would be affected in the same way as sober drivers by accident black spots; just that the number would be greater due to alcohol.

          • Peter Handy

            Can’t argue with that Pete. I think that there may also be a case made for drivers that have maybe had a couple of drinks (and therefore alert to the risks of being breath tested) being a little more carefull than the average driver who hasn’t drunk. There must be a point however where the intoxication reduces the inhibitions and slows the reflexes to where it outweighs any extra care you may take. So it would be interesting to know that on average you would be just as safe with, lets say for example, 3 drinks, as with none, but at 6 drinks your risk increases by whatever percentage.That survey would however mean lots of drivers exceeding the limit. lol

          • Pedalling Pete

            My elder brother, who worked for various brewers, always argued drivers were safer after a drink or two. Very non-PC. But now I’m beginning to think he might be right!

          • brianOO7

            No one is actually saying that. The arguments appear a little to nuanced for you.

        • Peter Handy

          Or to put it another way, if we banned all the sober drivers because they cause 90% of accidents, and replaced them with drunken drivers so we have the same density of traffic, but everyone was just over the limit, would the accident statistics increase or decrease.?

      • thewinelake

        It wouldn’t surprise me that IN SOME CASES, the risk of having an accident (or one in which serious injuries or fatalities result) could be actually reduced by elevated blood alcohol…

      • brianOO7

        True, but at what levels. You can’t just make a blanket statement about the impact of alcohol, as if there is no distinction between driving after one drink and driving after a dozen.

    • Howard

      The drink driving argument does not look at the “guilty” party, i.e. the driver who caused the accident but, as far as I can tell, just assumes that the “drunk” driver is automatically to blame. So the published statistics will always mislead.

      • Pedalling Pete

        You are correct Howard, but if the law is being changed. then we need to be sure that the result will justify the change. If everyone assumes that every drink-drive accident is due to alcohol, as most seem to, then they will be very surprised when reducing the drink/drive limit has almost zero effect; other than to put points on licences, increase convicted drivers’ insurances, and close even more pubs. If we want to save lives, we need to know what the result of the Scottish change has had. But it is far too early to get the facts. So it is very disturbing to see our idiot politicians following the knee-jerk policy of the Scots!

    • Dougie

      You’re quite correct that it cannot be assumed that every accident involving a driver who is over the (arbitrary) limit must be ascribed to alcohol. Likewise, it is perfectly possible for an accident involving a driver just below the limit to be alcohol-related.
      I would be very interested to see statistics on the spread of results from all breathalyser tests. The culture regarding drink-driving has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. My suspicion is that in most accidents where alcohol may be a factor, the driver is someone who has remained immune to the changed social mores and is well over the limit. If I’m correct, lowering the limit will have very little impact on accident statistics.

      • Pedalling Pete

        Exactly my point Dougie, and why I questioned the Scottish change, and consequently the proposals for England to follow before waiting for any evidence from Scotland; increased convictions is not evidence, lives saved is!

      • brianOO7

        Your assumption is correct according to stats I saw on this point, several years ago. Wish I had kept the reference to them, though it’s worth a fresh look.

    • robert wakeford

      Don’t get me started on drink drive limits! I will start by saying that if it were proved that my consumption of alcohol had caused an accident regardless of whether I had consumed no pints or 10 (I never have drunk 10 or anything like it) I would expect the book to be thrown at me. However, I feel that I am a responsible adult and I listen to my body. I know that sometimes I (like everyone else) can drink a half and it can go straight to my head, and on that occasion although I would be legal to drive I know that it wouldn’t be sensible (or safe) for me to get behind a wheel – so I’ve had to switch to soft drinks until I feel safe, or I call a cab. On the other side of the coin there have been many times when I’ve had 3,4 or more drinks over the course of the evening and I’ve been sat in taxi home knowing that I would have been 100% safe to drive home. I fully expect this comment to be rounded on as irresponsible/dangerous by many people; but I stand by my assertion.

      My suggestion would be for them use a modicum of common sense. I would love to see the use of sobriety tests to ascertain if someone were intoxicated to a point where this would impair their ability to safely drive a vehicle. Sobriety tests have been proven to be 100% accurate and have allowed law enforcement services all over the world to catch incapable drivers who may have had not only been drunk; but also those who’ve taken, drugs or who even drinkers who may be below the legal limit but who are sufficiently impaired to prove that they’re unsafe to drive a motor vehicle.

    • brianOO7

      It gets worse. Lowering the legal limits will get more accidents classified as alcohol-related, because it will capture both those above the old limit and those between the old and new limits. So lowering the limits will actually increase the official number and proportion of alcohol-related accidents, a statistic that politicians and the bureaucracy will then be able to use to clamp down even harder on drivers who have any amount of alcohol in their blood, leading to the demonization of safe and normal human behavior, ie. driving after having had a single beer or glass of wine. Far better to strongly penalize actual dangerous alcohol-related driving, say, setting the limit at 0.1 or 0.08 rather than the far lower ranges now in use or being contemplated. That would result in better voluntary compliance with actual dangerous drinking and driving rules and avoid demonizing and penalizing people who pose no danger on the road.

  • Rojeans

    They’re doing the same thing with sugar. 20 years ago the sugar count was 140 safe limit, now it’s 100!

  • Chalcedon

    The interesting thing is that the US units is 25 a week, but the US unit itself is 15 grammes of alcohol which is nearly, but not quite twice the UK unit. So the 1979 guidance was correct. Sadly all this guideline nonsense is non-science too.

  • Saam Amerat

    Alcohol does not count as one of the 5 a day. And you can live without it. If you can stop drinking, stop drinking. If you can’t, try to drink as little as possible.

    • Chester Draws

      No.

    • Snag

      Why should I?

      • Saam Amerat

        For your liver and your family who would be expected to look after you once you destroy it and coup without you once you destroy yourself.

        • Snag

          Did you not even read the article above? Teetotalism is MORE DANGEROUS than drinking in moderation.

          Please do not try and foist the dubious values of the seventh-century fantasist you follow onto the rest of us.

          • Saam Amerat

            Who wrote it?
            Doctors are not the ones telling you to go out to drink.
            And the institute of economical affairs is not interested in your health.
            Alcohol is bad for you but alcoholics and people who sell it will disagree with that fact.

          • Snag

            Alcohol is not bad for you, that’s a lie. Anything in excess can be bad for you; bananas, coffee, even water. Your motivation in this discussion is quite clear, and it has nothing to do with health, but instead the lunatic dictates of your man-made religion.

          • Saam Amerat

            So you think the health issues connected to Alcohol consumption are some sort of religious conspiracy?

          • Snag

            No. The words “your motivation” should be some sort of clue.

          • Saam Amerat

            The author wasn’t writing about my motivation was he?

            And if you do not have some sort of telepathic ability to determine my unstated motivation, then that last statement of yours says a lot about you.

    • JC Carter

      Yep, and increase your risk of CVD, so why should I?

  • Kfc1404

    It’s shame that Westminster (both houses) are not aware of the new guidelines, it might substantially reduce the burden on the public purse if the ‘honourable’ gentlemen were to follow her recommendations, after all, they seem to manage to drink far more than the guidelines recommend, I think the bars in both houses are subsidised to the tune of over £2m per annum….that’s a lot of booze considering half of them are not there most of the time.

  • Vinny Gracchus

    The justification for this move toward prohibition doesn’t rely in science. Rather its foundation is in the ideological dogma of neo-puritan lifestyle control. The cult includes antismokers and their tobacco control rackets, temperance crusaders, food fadists, healthists, and those that fancy eugenics. Their health advice is more like superstition, fetish, and propaganda. The prohibitionists are a cult.

    • Roger Hendrix

      Rackets? You mean making money by not spending it on fags?
      Surely the eugenicists would want the idiot smokers to die off and stop breeding?
      You are not even vaguely obliged to follow any of their suggestions.

    • burttthebike

      So true, and the amount of misleading and downright wrong health advice is scandalous. If I have any area of expertise, it is in cycle helmets, which have been promoted for thirty years (especially by the BBC) when all the reliable evidence shows clearly that they are not effective. cyclehelmets.org

  • Chris Oakley

    The rationale for lowering the limit for men is utterly flawed. It irrationally and unreasonably combines two types of variable risk factors, those relating to illness that can be logically directly correlated to consumption levels and those related to acute harm that cannot.

    Risks of acute harm are increased by episodic heavy consumption but a similar level of consumption spread over a week would have no impact. So what the “experts” are saying is that having a large whisky before bed 3 nights a week is as likely to get you killed in a car crash as drinking them in an hour and driving . It really is that insane and pathetic.

    As far as I am concerned, the people responsible ought to be fired and publicly shamed for wasting tax payers money in pursuit of their dubious political objectives.

  • Alex

    With regard to the “twice as much drink bought as reported to be drunk” I wonder what the average person’s drinks cabinet looks like. My parents barely drink, glass of wine with Sunday meal maybe plus less than ten “occasions” per year. Over the past 30 years they have accumulated quite the stash of brandy, whisky, etc. I would be willing to bet that they have about as much booze in there by unit as they’ve drunk in the same period.

    I would guess people also underestimate their own drinking because it’s not routine. If you have a tinny every night or a pint down the pub you can add that up pretty easily but if during the year you go on say the works Xmas do, a wedding, a few dinner parties, a skiing holiday, Christmas at home… you are likely to forget about these intermittent bouts of consumption or at least find it very tough to tot them up.

  • Roger Hendrix

    This bloke doesn’t understand his own graph

    It shows the optimum amount to drink a day is more than zero but less than 10 grams (half a pint) a day, maybe less.

    Beyond that your lifespan shortens incrementally.

    The weird bit is that teetotallers live shorter lives than moderate drinkers, but the point is that if you drink at all, the more you drink, the quicker you die.

    • JC Carter

      your post says more about your own reading skills than his writing.

      • Vernon Maldoom

        Steady son!

      • Roger Hendrix

        I can read perfectly well than you very much.

        I quote.

        “There are people in the temperance and ‘public health’ lobbies who do not want to accept the benefits of alcohol consumption”

        Yet the graph he is relying on plainly shows that if you drink more than half a pint a day your life expectancy progressively declines.

        The logical jiggery pokery happens here:

        ” It would appear that you can drink significantly more than 14 units a week — or two units a day — and have a lower mortality risk than a teetotaller.”
        Indeed, however no one is advocating complete abstinence, but drinking moderately
        Its more than evident from the studies that someone who drinks “significantly more than 14 units a week” has a significantly higher mortality risk than someone who drinks one unit a week..
        What have I misread?

  • Roger Hendrix

    Next from Christopher Snowden, righteous outrage at being told not to run with scissors or advised against eating stuff he’s found on the floor.

  • Philippa Martyr

    https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2014/11/new-myths-australias-dangerous-drinking/

    I found the same misinformation in Australia in a 2014 report.

  • The BBC Sucks BBCs

    Im not taking advice on moderation from a government with 1.5 trillion £ debt. Perhaps if they could show more fiscal control I might listen, until then….

  • Michael H Kenyon

    Do what you like, but not too much of anything, a balanced diet, and physical activity will do. Mental health is greatly helped by purposeful hobbies and activities, and not looking at a screen all the time (so not being harried into reacting/ consuming all the time) It worked for our fathers. The rest is fashionable gimmick.

  • AphraBehn42

    Well of *course* the medical profession don’t trust the government to understand evidence – you have someone who believes in homeopathy in charge of the Department of Health.
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/08/jeremy-hunt-homeopathy-studies-chief-medical-officer

  • Howard

    My other point is that these misleading statements also encourage the reader to disbelieve all other statements from that source. So all Sally Davies’ public utterances will be regarded with widespread scepticism even if she is in fact stating a genuine fact, for example, about the rapidly increasing ineffectiveness of antibiotics.

  • Lauri Beekmann

    The author here turns us back to 1979 and states that “we must believe not only that every previous Chief Medical Officer got it wrong but that every other country in the world has got it wrong.” Well, at least the earlier ones got it wrong already because we did´nt know the link between alcohol and cancer. Alcohol was added to the list of carcinogenics in 1987 (was it?!, close to it anyway). So of course they got it wrong. As surveys are showing people still dont believe that link, as it is a matter of faith.
    The author speaks about “safe level” but as much I have read, countries are issuing “low-risk guidelines”. It would be a rather difficult to imagine that a doctor would define a safe level recommending it to a whole population. I think by a definition there cant be a “safe level” when we speak about a psychoactive, addictive and carcinogenic substance. While the low dose COULD help prevent someones cardiovascular disease it COULD be an active agent helping to develop others cancer. The same low dose could affect the same person differently on different days, depending on stress level, tiredness, overall health condition, presence of medicament’s etc. Lets keep in mind that these are not laws nobody is punished if they exceed these levels. But they should know that there is no guaranteed safe level for them. And then its already up to them.
    The last comment I would make is about these J-curve studies. Its a big topic and I´m not going into that in details. I´m not qualified for that either and if I would share a study you would probably respond with another one. So lets not go into that :-) But how do you compare drinking alcohol with abstinence? This is just something that has puzzled me for a while now. You can compare different groups and draw some associations but you cannot come up with any conclusive causal advice. Alcohol use can be clearly linked to different causes of death. But can someone die because they abstained from ethanol?! If these 26000 people in USA would´nt have been moderate drinkers and they died of CVD, would the explanation at their death certificate be “abstinence”?

  • Long Ben Avery

    I’m old enough to remember when the definition of an alcoholic was somebody who drank more than their GP!

  • Daniel Jeyn

    Am I alone in not fully comprehending where the dividing line is between what is a “teetotaler” and what is a “moderate drinker?”

  • Mike Slionch

    Whilst I accept the Speccie isn’t a scientific journal and what you say is essentially epidemiologically sound: if you’re going to mention a meta-analysis of 35 studies and reproduce a graph from it, wouldn’t it be good to cite the study? Even just the name of the journal.

  • therealviffer

    This just in from a joyless, dried-up old husk: “Tax units: be miserable, without gregarious relief, for your entire, pointless, lives. Your government loves you”.

  • AndrewMelville

    I think she is just another petty agent of the fascist nanny state.

  • Dan

    Obviously less is probably better by the odds.
    But it’s not as simple as that for any measure of anything. Just depends on whether or not your willing to take the risk. For myself, I’ve already taken the risk. I can only hope now It pays off. Not getting my hopes up though.
    Just generally though, life is dangerous and none of us are gunna make it our alive. All you can do is your best. Then when the time comes you’ve got a chance of dying happy.

  • post_x_it

    Interesting comments about ‘anchoring’. Reminds me of the debate about the motorway speed limit. A number of senior police officials have come out and said (though others have denied it) that the limit needs to be 70 because everyone does 80-85 anyway, which the police don’t usually prosecute, but if the limit was 80 then people would be doing 100 which is too fast. Now that UK drivers have learned to live with this weird limbo situation, it’s probably become self-fulfilling, but that doesn’t make it good policy.
    In most of the rest of Europe, the limit de jure and de facto is 130 km/h (81mph) and if you’re caught exceeding it you get a ticket. People seem to cope with that concept just fine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nigelbryancook Nige Cook

    Just a comment about the mathematics of the J-shaped dose-effects curve. This also occurs in Hiroshima’s cancer versus radiation dose data (for example see Dr Sander’s book, Radiation Hormesis and the Linear-No-Threshold Assumption, http://www.springer.com/gb/book/9783642037191 ): small doses of free radicals (from radiation ionization of water, or from alcohol) stimulate the DNA repair enzymes like P53. It’s like exercise. A low dose rate actually improves health, as compared to zero dose. However, there’s a limit beyond which the damage done exceeds the ability of DNA repair mechanisms or immune system to cope with the damage, and that’s why very high doses are dangerous. The mainstream error is in assuming a linear (straight line) dose-effects response curve, extrapolating the effects of low doses from high dose data. This error was first done for radiation scare mongering during the Stevenson vs. Eisenhower presidential election campaign by geneticist Edward Lewis (a friend of anti-nuclear campaigner Linus Pauling) who published the “linear, no threshold” fraud in Science, 1957. With anti-nuclear politics behind it, it then became embedded in radiation exposure laws, thus making nuclear power uneconomical!

    The mainstream error is assuming that the effect E is proportional to the dose D, for instance E = cD where c is a constant. The truth (graphical illustrations are at http://glasstone.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/above-3.html ) is that that this linear relationship only emerges for very high doses, and the general law is actually E = cD + [natural incidence at zero dose]exp(-bD). This is a J-shaped curve, where small doses reduce the natural incidence by boosting the damage repair systems, and only very large doses (delivered over times too short for repair) produce net damage.

    • steve cook

      is it not possible that alcohol is like a free radical or the other thingy that is to say-it is always harmful and just a question of if and when it causes cancer ? like supposedly fluoride and petrol and diesel and aluminium or lead etc ? do you follow that point ? is it possible because this is how it was reported on numerous tv channels recently and was reported like this a few years ago too-though less intensely .
      that sounds very plausible to me and I choose to believe that is both possible and even probable -hence why they say even one sip can kill you potentially and that the harm caused is irreversible -just like with lead or fluoride etc ?

  • Teacher

    A couple of years ago I actually heard the doctor who ‘invented’ the idea of alcohol units on the radio. Not only did he admit he made the whole thing up but he also described how he picked the drinking limits out of thin air.

  • JohnnyNorfolk

    Who cares. Take the risk and enjoy your drink just do not go overboard very often. Explore the world of Scotch single malr whiskey.

  • robert wakeford

    I think the real damage here goes further than this. Every day we are confronted on the news with the latest “scientifically based” health advice. More and more often we discover the advice has come from sponsored research. Most famously for decades we’ve been told that butter is bad for you but recent research has proved that butter in not in fact inherently bad for you, and the original research that this advice was based on came from research paid for by margarine lobbyists, and I’ve just read today that this latest alcohol advice seems to have originally come form an anti alcohol lobby group.

    With this corrupt research being presented as FACT is it surprising that people are starting to disbelieve all governmental advice.

    Lies damn lies and statistics!!!!!!

  • Adam Bromley

    I think this article highlights the dangers of the alcohol guidelines – they are presented as hard fact when they are nothing of the sort. Newspapers run scare stories about the links of alcohol to certain cancers, without providing context. A 15% increase in the cancer risk from a very low number is not necessarily a reason to avoid alcohol, especially if the verified benefits of moderate consumption (especially red wine) are taken into effect. That is quite apart from psychological impact of booze – it relaxes people, helps them unwind etc. Treating all drinkers as if they were alcoholics is absurd; likewise including alcohol-related violence is another deeply misleading concept. How people drink is in many ways far more important that overall amounts (thought they matter too). Consuming a bottle of wine over 4 hours in the evening does not produce violence, downing shots just before closing time does. It’s the rapid increase in alcohol levels that cause extreme intoxication rather than the absolute amount consumed over time. Common sense in other words. Something that seems utterly absent from the government’s approach.

  • Daniel Hammond

    ……….OSHA also took on the passive smoking fraud and this is what came of it:

    Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

    This sorta says it all

    These limits generally are based on assessments of health risk and calculations of concentrations that are associated with what the regulators believe to be negligibly small risks. The calculations are made after first identifying the total dose of a chemical that is safe (poses a negligible risk) and then determining the concentration of that chemical in the medium of concern that should not be exceeded if exposed individuals (typically those at the high end of media contact) are not to incur a dose greater than the safe one.

    So OSHA standards are what is the guideline for what is acceptable ”SAFE LEVELS”

    OSHA SAFE LEVELS

    All this is in a small sealed room 9×20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.

    For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes.

    “For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes.

    “Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

    Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up.

    “For Hydroquinone, “only” 1250 cigarettes.

    For arsenic 2 million 500,000 smokers at one time.

    The same number of cigarettes required for the other so called chemicals in shs/ets will have the same outcomes.

    So, OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

    Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec’y, OSHA.

    Why are their any smoking bans at all they have absolutely no validity to the courts or to science!