Science knows already since 1988 that alcohol, like tobacco and asbestos, is a group one carcinogen. Alcohol causes seven types of cancer.
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. The World Health Organization started 2023 by issuing a clear statement that there is no healthy or safe amount of alcohol consumption.
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.
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.
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.
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, doubling current alcohol excise duties would prevent 10,700 cancer cases and 4,850 cancer deaths due to alcohol in the WHO European Region.
Our politicians can also place warning labels on alcoholic products informing about cancer, heart disease, and other alcoholharms. 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. 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. 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.
By Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International
Find more from Movendi International (February 2023)