Maverick Citizen

WORLD CANCER DAY OP-ED

People’s health or alcohol company profits? How will we address the fact that alcohol causes cancer

People’s health or alcohol company profits? How will we address the fact that alcohol causes cancer
There has never been a better time for an ambitious approach to protect our societies from cancer caused by alcohol, argue the authors. (Photo: iStock)

Saturday 4 February was World Cancer Day. After tobacco, alcohol is the second biggest cause of cancer — before other risk factors such as infections, physical inactivity, or sunlight. Globally, 740,000 people get cancer due to alcohol, each year. However, there’s a lot that can be done to prevent it — if only there was political will.

The world is experiencing a shift in awareness about alcohol harm.

We are witnessing rising recognition that alcohol is no ordinary product and the shift is driven by growing awareness that alcohol causes cancer.

Science knows already since 1988 that alcohol, like tobacco and asbestos, is a group one carcinogen. When humans consume ethanol in beer, wine, and liquor, the byproduct attacks the DNA. But the media found it difficult to report properly on the real effects of alcohol and instead helped the alcohol industry to keep people in the dark.

Even this is shifting.

Ireland will introduce cancer warnings on alcohol products. Norway is on track to do the same. Canada has just lowered the low-risk guidelines for alcohol use — in large part due to the strong evidence of the link between alcohol and seven types of cancer. The World Health Organization started 2023 by issuing a clear statement that there is no healthy or safe amount of alcohol consumption.

And the media has been reporting widely and mostly accurately because people want to know.

We care about our health, even more so since the pandemic. And we want to know what science has to say about the health effects of the products that dominate our environments. As we have become more health and sustainability conscious, we are also growing more weary of the unethical business practices of multinational corporations.

The alcohol industry wants to keep people in the dark about the fact that their products are as carcinogenic as cigarettes and asbestos. Research has shown that awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer is very low internationally.


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Alcohol companies are afraid of people becoming aware of the fact that ethanol in beer, wine, and liquor causes at least seven types of cancer. And so they fight tooth and nail against scientific studies, against Ireland’s democratically decided cancer warning labelling, and against other alcohol policy initiatives.

This shows the cynical and greedy approach of alcohol companies, their executives and shareholders to maximising profits and fueling massive harm. After tobacco, alcohol is the second biggest cause of cancer — before other risk factors such as infections, physical inactivity, or sunlight. Globally, 740,000 people get cancer due to alcohol, each year.

But it also shows that our politicians can do a lot to bring about change. They can develop alcohol taxation systems that effectively protect people from alcohol harm, including cancer. 

For example, a recent research paper showed that doubling current alcohol excise duties would prevent 10,700 cancer cases and 4,850 cancer deaths due to alcohol in the WHO European Region), particularly in Member States of the European Union where alcohol excise duties are in many cases very low.

People have a right to be protected from carcinogenic substances. Our politicians can also place warning labels about cancer, heart disease, and other health and social harms due to alcohol on the products of the alcohol industry. They can fund mass media campaigns to increase public recognition of the real harm due to alcohol. They can ban alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion. People have a right to be protected from predatory commercial practices. And our politicians can put in place common sense limits on the presence of alcohol in our communities.

Our politicians have proven solutions at their disposal. The best scientists in the world are telling us about the clear and direct link between alcohol and cancer. And as we can see there is a shift in awareness and concern about the harms caused by alcohol. 

There has never been a better time for an ambitious approach to protect our societies from cancer caused by alcohol. Such an initiative will protect and improve the health and well-being of people and communities, it will strengthen our health systems as alcohol harms, such as cancer cases and deaths, decline, and it will unlock fresh resources for investment in health promotion and disease prevention. DM/MC

Kristina Sperkova from Slovakia is the International President of Movendi International. Kristina is a psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in health promotion and alcohol prevention in development work and in alcohol policy advocacy.

Juliet Namukasa from Uganda is a Board Member of Movendi International. Juliet is the Chairperson of the Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance (UAPA) and Country Director for International Aid Services Uganda (IAS Uganda) with more than 20 years’ experience in development and humanitarian work. 

Labram M Musah from Ghana is a Board Member of Movendi International. Labram is the Executive Director of Programs of the Vision for Alternative Development (VALD-Ghana) the leading organization advocating for stringent tobacco control and alcohol policy as well as road safety and climate change measures in Ghana. He doubles as the National Coordinator of the Ghana NCD Alliance.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Leslie Stelfox says:

    This is a job for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma!

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    The most difficult thing is being able to recognise the superficial with gross generalisations. There’s alcohol and alcohol, honey and honey, mealiemeal and mealiemeal, bread and bread; and they are quite, quite different.
    Is it not fascinating that in the Blue Zones of the world, where living to a normal, vigorous vintage is the norm, that they drink two or three glasses of wine every day? But it’s not the normal offering from commercial companies.
    Then there’s natural unprocessed honey that actually lowers the fasting blood glucose of diabetics, and the commercial stuff that puts FBG into orbit.
    The super number one refined mealie that is probably the chief cause of stunting of nearly a third of SA’s children, and the whole grain stuff from the farmer that is everyone’s nutritional delight.
    Having said all of this, the healthy options are hard to get and most people don’t even know they exist.
    Home brewed wine and beer are full of phenols, rich in probiotics; good stuff. In moderation. But you won’t find it at Tops.

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