Alcohol industry denies cancer and other health risks

Just like the tobacco industry before it, the alcohol industry is adept at doing anything to protect its health-harming product – including denying the health risks associated with alcohol. 

For years, the idea that alcohol, particularly red wine, is good for the heart infiltrated media, policy debates, and been spread by industry misinformation.  

However, as a new video by the Institue of Alcohol Studies in the UK points out, over the past decade, new study designs have improved our understanding, concluding with the World Heart Federation stating that: “Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol is not good for the heart”.  

A policy briefing by World Heart Federation is clear that: 

Alcohol increases the risk for hypertensive heart disease, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, flutter and strokes.  

The myth that wine in particular is good for the heart in moderation made an appearance in Irish media during frenzied commentary from European wine industry about Ireland’s forthcoming health warning labels, making the inaccurate claim that wine is good for the heart. 

Denials about health risks are nothing new, but they are egregious and should be called out. With all of the factual information out there now, is it up to media to factcheck these comments and qualify them? Or indeed not publish them at all? 

In a comprehensive feature article about the labelling of alcohol products in the New York Times, IBEC’s alcohol lobbying arm, Drinks Ireland said warning language forthcoming on alcohol products in Ireland in relation to the links between cancer and liver disease was “disproportionate and inaccurate,” and primarily geared toward scaring people. 

This kind of rhetoric is a well-known tactic that harmful commodity industries use. Casting doubt about scientific facts set back action on tobacco harm for many years causing many needless deaths and health problems. The question is, why do we allow the alcohol industry to continue to get away with this?  

The evidence linking drinking and cancer is well established. In 1988, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that alcohol is carcinogenic to humans. Research in the decades since has only strengthened the conclusion, including for breast, liver, colorectal and esophageal cancers. In November, the W.H.O. and the I.A.R.C. declared in a joint statement: “No safe amount of alcohol consumption for cancers can be established.” 

It will be 2026 before health risk warning labels appear on products in Ireland. Meanwhile, people may continue to listen to industry misinformation. But this is about informed consent and factual information. It’s long past time to kick out the doubt and clearly tell people – there is a direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers. What people decide to do with that information is, of course, up to them.