Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before…
This all sounds strangely familiar…which means we can guess where this is going. O Canada…
In retrospect, researchers Erin Hobin and Timothy Stockwell shouldn’t have been surprised that their first-of-its-kind experiment placing cancer warnings on 47,000 bottles of booze—funded by the Canadian government to the tune of $1 million (CDN)—got yanked.
Designed to assess the impact of eye-catching labels, researchers set out to affix bright yellow stickers bearing health messages onto nearly every alcoholic drink for sale at the sole liquor store in the city of Whitehorse, Yukon, for eight months. “It was a rare and unique opportunity,” said Hobin, a public health scientist for the province of Ontario, in a recent interview. But as soon as the experiment began in late November 2017, disgruntled emails from the heads of Canada’s beer, liquor, and wine lobby groups began to roll in. They demanded the Yukon government halt the study, according to public records the researchers later obtained—by Christmas, it was suspended.
Big Booze’s interference in what would have been an unprecedented study on alcohol cancer warnings is only one instance in a long history of efforts the industry has taken to sow doubt about drinking’s health effects. Other recent hits include the funding of flattering research and campaigns against policies that encourage drinking less. These actions muddy the general public’s understanding of how much it’s safe to drink—and in the cases of certain types of cancer, whether it’s safe to drink at all.
There is a frustratingly stubborn gulf between what experts know about alcohol’s cancer risk and the awareness of everyday drinkers.
Alcohol’s cancer link is irrefutable: In 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that there is a causal relationship between ethanol—the specific type of alcohol in booze—and throat, liver, breast, and colon cancers. This link has since been acknowledged both by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—which advises that “for some conditions, such as certain types of cancer [for example, breast cancer] and liver disease, there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption”—as well as the U.S. Surgeon General, who has written that, “[for] breast cancer, studies have shown that even moderate drinking may increase the risk.” A public health analysis published last year estimated that the cancer risk posed by drinking one bottle of wine a week was comparable to smoking five cigarettes for men and 10 for women in the same time span.
Somebody, actually a whole lot of someones, want in on that $256 billion, with a “b”, sweet Big Tobacco settlement action. And Big Booze looks like a nice, fat target. From grants to research it to court actions to gain settlements and damages, it is pretty obvious where this is going, and the motivation behind it.