There’s an easy solution to reducing booze’s damage to public health: water it down.
That’s right, weaker beer could be of benefit to all – even to those hard-partying university students on a budget.
According to Canadian addiction researchers, lower alcohol content would reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on society while still benefitting the industry.
In the most recent issue of the journal Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, researchers suggest slightly reducing the alcohol content of beer and wine to decrease the effects of ethanol, the most-harmful ingredient in alcoholic beverages.
“We are proposing that the alcohol content of alcoholic beverages [be] reduced,” said the paper’s lead author, Jurgen Rehm, director of the institute for mental health policy research at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
The idea behind the move is that cutting down alcohol content slightly won’t mean that people will consume more to make up for it.
“That means we should, for example, reduce the [alcohol] content of beer from an average of 5.5 per cent to an average of 4.5 per cent. That will not, according to all of the studies we know, [have an] impact on consumers; that they suddenly drink one bottle more of beer, because the consumers usually don’t even notice that. But it will have a tremendous impact on health,” says Rehm, according to CBC.
Cutting down the alcohol content in wine wouldn’t affect the taste either, so even seasoned sippers wouldn’t notice a difference.
As highlighted in the paper, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global strategy to reduce the harmful use (or abuse) of alcohol encourages the alcohol industry to contribute to this effort. Not surprisingly, however, there is little evidence to suggest that alcohol producers have taken on the responsibility.
There are three mechanisms by which the reduction of alcoholic strength could affect harmful use of alcohol: by current drinkers replacing standard alcoholic beverages with similar beverages of lower alcoholic strength, without increasing the quantity of liquid consumed; by current drinkers switching to the growing number of non-alcoholic alternatives for part of the time (thereby reducing their average amount of ethanol consumed); and by initiating alcohol use in current abstainers.
The first mechanism, of course, holds the most promise to reduce harm.
To prove their point, the researchers point to an experiment whereby college students attending a party were randomly given a beer with either reduced-alcohol content or full alcohol.
At the end of the party, the students assigned the lower-alcohol beverages showed lower blood-alcohol levels (meaning they didn’t consume more bottles or cans of beer to make up for it) and still reported having fun at the party.
But not only is reducing the alcohol content beneficial for health, it also benefits the industry.
“The alcohol industry always fears they will be the new tobacco, given the numbers of deaths. So this will raise their public image and will not in any which way reduce their profits,’ said Rehm.
So not only would the initiative be great for marketing (everyone likes a good “progressive solution” story), producers will likely still sell the same amount of beer while reducing production costs.
The researchers identify two other means to facilitate lower-alcohol options. One way is to amp up the selection and visibility of lower-alcohol products at retailers with a monopoly, like the LCBO. Another solution involves increasing taxes on higher-alcohol products and decreasing taxes on beverages with less alcohol.
In order for it to work, however, someone will need to take initiative to implement it.
According to WHO, there are nearly 3.3 million deaths each year as a result of the harmful use of alcohol; 25 per cent of deaths among those aged 20-39 can be attributed to booze.
The suggestion of the researchers to reduce the levels of ethanol would lead to a lower blood alcohol content in drinkers, which in turn would reduce the number of impaired driving incidences, alcohol-related injuries and death, and diseases like cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.
And you can still have fun at parties.
Cheers to that.