It’s Friday and people are heading to pubs across Britain but the topic of spirited discussion over pints is new: Tough new official guidance on alcohol based on scientific evidence that warns “any” level of consumption increases the risk of cancer.
The guidance revises the 1995 version, and advises Britons to cut down the number of units per week considered safe. Instead of the ritualistic daily glass of wine at the end of the day, the chief medical officer (CMO) wants them to drink tea.
The guidance was a major topic of discussion across the British media on Friday.
It is “scaremongering” from a “nanny state”, said critics, but CMO Sally Davies said the idea that drinking a glass of red wine a day is good for health is an “old wives’ tale”. People need to take account of the clear link between alcohol and cancer.
Alcohol-related treatment on the National Health Service costs billions of pounds every year. There is much evidence of binge-drinking on almost every weekend in city centres and other areas across Britain.
According to the new guidelines, if men were to drink, they should not have more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the same level as for women. The previous guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women a week.
Another recommendation is not to “save up” the 14 units for one or two days in a week, but to spread them over three or more days. A good way to reduce alcohol intake is to have several alcohol-free days a week, it says.
However, David Spiegelhalter, professor of the public understanding of risk at University of Cambridge, said: “These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition.
“So should we feel ok about risks of this level? An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”
The guidelines provide detailed advice on three levels – a weekly guideline on regular drinking, advice on single episodes of drinking, and advice on pregnancy and drinking.