Published On: May 10, 20221086 words5.4 min read


My guest this week is a Senior Scientist with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria in Canada.  Professor Tim Stockwell is a man with a mission – to inform people about the link between alcohol and cancer.  He has been working tirelessly towards this goal for years and has made himself very unpopular with the liquor industry in the process!

The fact that alcohol is one of the top three causes of preventable cancer is not exactly a secret – but it may as well be as so few people seem to be aware of it.  Even moderate amounts of alcohol can cause cancer and there is no safe amount.

In this Episode

  • We discussed the role of government when it comes to informing their citizens about the health risks of alcohol and agreed that governments should have some responsibility to inform and educate.
  • Tim explained that the Canadian govt had done a good job during Covid EXCEPT when it came to alcohol policy – they actually deemed it an “essential item” and expanded its availability and even reduced the price in some areas.
  • Here in South Africa, our government went the opposite way and enforced several alcohol bans. These bans were implemented to clear the hospitals of alcohol related trauma patients so that Covid patients could be treated – and it worked!
  • The alcohol ban in South Africa was like a massive social experiment, demonstrating the massive harm that alcohol does, both to individuals and to society.
  • I wrote an article listing the mind blowing statistics from this unprecedented period in South African history – called What If Alcohol was Banned.
  • Tim explained that alcohol consumption in Canada is the highest it’s been for 20 years and that they are catching up with the UK and Europe.
  • Canada has an alcohol deficit of $3.7 billion a year – this means that its costs the government $3.7 billion MORE (in healthcare costs e.t.c.) than it brings in from taxes.
  • It’s been known for at least 35 years that alcohol was a number one carcinogen and we agreed that producers should be telling their consumers about the risks – so that at least we are making an informed choice when we drink.
  • Scotland has successfully introduced minimum pricing (although the liquor industry fought it for 6 years!) and modelling demonstrates that this policy reduces hospitalisation and deaths.
  • The official figures of alcohol related deaths throughout the world is R3M a year but Tim believes that these figures are more like 5 or 6M. The official figures dampened down by the outdated view that “moderate drinking” is good for our health.
  • Tim maintains that the misinformation that moderate drinking can be good for you has been responsible for millions of deaths worldwide.
  • We agreed the irony of the fact that alcohol kills far more people than Covid did – during Covid the whole world closed down yet nothing changes regarding alcohol…
  • We wondered what impact it would have if we saw daily graphs on tv showing us deaths and hospitalisations from alcohol like we did for Covid!
  • Although it’s a “hard sell” there ARE effective strategies that could be implemented regarding alcohol policy explained Tim – pricing and availability being two of them.
  • Also focus groups have expressed the view that the absence of warning labels on alcohol conveys a powerful message that its ok.
  • Tim was featured in a Canadian documentary recently – in this documentary an oncologist was explaining that he bought a fishing rod that was covered in warning labels, yet a carcinogenic liquid has none!
  • We heard about a fascinating experiment in a Canadian Province where warning labels were introduced – quite striking labels with cancer warnings and the low risk guidelines.
  • This experiment proved labelling worked as it reduced consumption by 7%!
  • However it was halted when the liquor industry brought a legal action calling the labels “defamatory” (!)
  • We discussed the futility of being told to “Drink Responsibly” and agreed that this was just the liquor industry putting the blame on the consumer rather than being transparent about the dangers of consuming their product.
  • In spite of the struggles, Tim does feel that there is hope – he feels that there is a “tide” of change and that alcohol may finally be having its “cigarette moment”.
  • We talked about citizens’ “rights” and of course people must have the right to drink alcohol but they also have the right to be informed of the dangers – just like we are with cigarettes…
  • It took Scotland 6 years to get minimum pricing implemented but now other countries are introducing that policy.

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