Last week brought news that even moderate alcohol consumption can increase your risk of cancer. I heard it over and over, so it must be true! A report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) cites research findings of elevated risk of several types of cancer for drinkers, especially for heavy drinkers. It’s good to be aware of those associations, but drinking alcohol responsibly confers certain benefits that are more than compensatory. I won’t change my drinking habits on account of ASCO’s statement, and the findings in the report do not justify some of ASCO’s public policy recommendations.
Ronald Bailey in Reason was quick to note that ASCO’s findings required some “cherry picking” of research findings. Aaron E. Carroll in The New York Times used the same words. ASCO’s conclusions relied upon studies that found increased risks between drinking alcohol and certain cancers without mentioning that some of the same studies found protective effects against other cancers. And both Bailey and Carroll point out that drinking mitigates other risks. Bailey quotes one influential study:
“… ‘light and moderate alcohol intake predicted reduced all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortalities in both men and women.’ That’s right, light to moderate drinkers not only had lower risks of dying from any cause or from cardiovascular diseases, but also lower risks of dying from cancer.“
And evidently, as Bailey notes, there may be positive social and economic advantages associated with a bit of tippling.
The ASCO report contains a section called “PUBLIC HEALTH STRATEGIES TO REDUCE HIGH-RISK ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION”. Bailey flatly states that ASCO is a group of “public health nannies” and summarizes their positions thusly:
“The group treats consuming alcohol as a pure public health problem to which the only solutions are various forms of prohibition. They recommend regulating alcohol outlet density; increasing alcohol taxes and prices; maintaining limits on days and hours of sale; enhancing enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors; restricting youth exposure to advertising of alcoholic beverages; and resisting further privatization of retail alcohol sales in communities with current government control.“
Oh, please, calm down! Yes, there are risks to boozing, the most dangerous of which are well known. As Carroll emphasizes, ASCO’s statement doesn’t change the calculus much. There are few risks presented by moderate enjoyment of adult beverages, and the benefits are compelling. Please keep the nanny state out of my liquor cabinet!