Debate about alcohol has turned cancerous
Last week Penbo railed against Cancer Council advice that drinking any alcohol at all was a cancer risk. The Cancer Council responded, saying they were just relaying the science. Now, winemakers have their say.
Many of the posts in response to the article by the Cancer Council Australia’s chief lobbyist Paul Grogan picked up the basic flaw in his argument, but as winemakers are one of the targets of CCA’s latest media flurry I would like to add my two cents’ worth.
Grogan’s defensive cries that they “don’t make this stuff up”, but that is not what people are accusing them of. The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia acknowledges that a link has been found between alcohol and a level of cancer risk, just as there is a link between numerous other activities in life and cancer risk. That is not new news, despite recent headlines.
But the council cannot claim, as Grogan does, that this is about letting people “make their own decisions based on the evidence” when it is telling only one side of the story in its current media and advertising campaign.
Where, for example, is the mention that heart disease remains Australia’s biggest killer and largest hospital burden and that research has shown that moderate consumption of alcohol promotes both short-term and long-term cardio-protective effects?
Imagine if winemakers released a television commercial making that point; the anti-alcohol lobby would scream blue murder. Yet the Cancer Council feels it is acceptable to release a commercial that is equally accurate but unbalanced in relation to the overall issue confronting consumers.
And where is the acknowledgement that the aetiological fractions that account for alcohol cancer risk being so significant are mainly due to its co-association with other risk factors such as obesity, exercise, diet and smoking? For example, smoking and drinking in concert increase the risk higher than what they would separately.
The council highlights wine in its advertisement, yet the relationship between wine consumption and cancer is much more complex than the one it presents.
Research shows, for example, that moderate wine consumption may actually reduce the risk of mouth, throat, oesophagus, lung and colorectal cancers as well as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A recent study even shows an ingredient which naturally occurs in red wine enhances the effects of a drug used to combat breast cancer.
The key word here is “moderate”. As with everything in life, it’s about finding a balance. If people are going to be assisted to do that, we need to present all the information, not just tell one side of the story to support specific aims.
For now, WFA recommends that to enjoy the benefits and minimise the risks of alcohol consumption, people drink according to the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian guidelines.
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