It is increasingly clear that the temperance lobby is increasing its influence both globally and domestically
Since last August, when the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Abuse (CSSA) published its updated alcohol guidelines, telling Canadians that having more than two drinks per week is a problem, alcohol policy has been placed back under the microscope. It’s certainly important to discuss what Canada’s alcohol guidelines should be, and what is or is not considered low-risk drinking, but it would be wise to first put anti-alcohol lobby groups under the microscope before proceeding with any type of policy change.
It is increasingly clear that the temperance lobby, those who think drinking any amount of alcohol is unsafe, is increasing its influence both globally and domestically.
Internationally, the World Health Organization has moved from declaring the COVID-19 pandemic over to narrowing its sights on alcohol. The latest example of the WHO’s mission creep is its alcohol “guide for journalists,” which Christopher Snowden of the Institute for Economic Affairs has describedas “a catalogue of anti-drinking tropes, half-truths, and brazen lies.”
The guide starts off by stating that “no amount of alcohol is safe to drink.” But this “no safe amount” claim has been repeatedly debunked by peer-reviewed research that finds a “J-Curve” relationship between moderate drinking and all-cause mortality. Those who consume moderately, usually one to two drinks per day depending on the study, actually have a lower mortality rate than those who abstain entirely, with the risk then increasing after that one-to-two drink threshold. The J-curve has been found in peer-reviewed studies going back as far as 1986, and has been confirmed since in at least eight different studies. The J-curve is not reason to drink if you don’t, but it does undermine the premise of the WHO’s policy on alcohol consumption.
The WHO’s departure from evidence-based policy wouldn’t matter much to Canadians if those half-truths weren’t making their way into our politics, but they are. The CCSA’s new guidelines, built on many of the same false premises as the WHO’s, are gradually becoming what is considered the gold standard for alcohol policy.
Take, for example, B.C. Cancer’s new campaign in partnership with the province’s ministry of health. Focused on how drinking causes cancer, it cites the CCSA’s report, stating that it “provides evidence-based advice on alcohol.” But it doesn’t, so much so that the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research (ISFAR) called it “a pseudo-scientific amalgamation of selected studies of low scientific validity that fit their preconceived notions.”
And what are those preconceived notions? In sum: temperance, the idea that no one should ever drink, under any circumstances. In fact, the WHO officially partners with temperance lobby groups like Movendi, an international temperance group that preaches a zero-consumption approach to alcohol. Movendi was founded in the 1800s under the name “The Order of Good Templars,” but rebranded itself in 2020, likely because the old name sounded too fusty to be taken seriously. But fusty is what temperance is.
Unfortunately for those who drink responsibly, these groups are being taken more seriously both here and abroad. There is no question that alcohol, when misused, is dangerous. Alcohol policy should therefore always be on the table (as it were). But serious discussion about it should be based on accurate information.
Originally published here