Say ‘no’ to alcohol | Sunday Observer

Say ‘no’ to alcohol

There are only two legal drugs in the world – alcohol and tobacco. However, these can be just as bad as the illegal ones, especially, depending on the amount or units consumed. Most people consume these substances in excess which can lead to several illnesses and even premature death. There are illegal versions of these ‘legal’ ones which are even worse from a health point of view. There are those who argue that the State gets a fair amount of revenue through tobacco and alcohol taxes, but any income thus generated is negated by the massive health cost of treating those affected by alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Around the world, one in three people are thought to drink alcohol and it is linked to nearly a tenth of all deaths in those aged 15 to 49. Alcoholism or the addiction to alcohol is a big problem around the world, including Sri Lanka. But, here we were referring to those who drink alcohol in excess. How about those who drink in moderation?

Well, there is bad news for those who enjoy what they think is a healthy glass of wine a day. A large new global study published in the Lancet has confirmed previous research which has shown that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The researchers admit moderate drinking may protect against heart disease but found that the risk of cancer and other diseases outweighs these protections. In fact, a University of North Carolina survey concluded last week found that the consumption of alcohol made some prostate cancers “more aggressive”.

The new Global Burden of Disease study looked at levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016. Analysing data from 15 to 95-year-olds, the researchers compared people who did not drink at all with those who had one alcoholic drink a day. They found that out of 100,000 non-drinkers, 914 would develop an alcohol-related health problem such as cancer or suffer an injury.

But, an extra four people would be affected if they had one alcoholic drink a day. For people who had two alcoholic drinks a day, 63 more developed a condition within a year and for those who consumed five drinks daily, there was an increase of 338 people who developed a health problem.

The lead author of the study Dr Max Griswold, at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington, said: “Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increases with any amount of alcohol.

The strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for heart disease in our study. Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more.”

The researchers say, the study is the most important study ever conducted on the controversial subject. However, if you must drink, scientists say the safest upper limit is 14 units a week - equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine.

The problem for most people is that there is no proper idea of “moderation”. They may start with one glass of an alcoholic drink per day and later on, consume two or three. At this stage, the health effects are already being felt. And some alcoholic percentages (by volume) may be deceptive – there are instances when low-alcohol wine and beer could be more damaging in the long term. This study should force a re-think by those who consume alcohol in any amount.

The main challenge in Sri Lanka is that many people have been driven to consume illicit alcohol, which is much cheaper than the legal varieties, and are widely available, even on days and time periods the legal ‘wine stores’ are closed (and the illicit brewers do not pay a red cent in taxes to the Government). The consumption of moonshine can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences including blindness and death. Attempts by many Governments to rationalize alcohol prices, at least for the ’soft’ varieties have not been very successful due to various reasons. However, the authorities must do more to root out the illicit breweries, some of which are alleged to enjoy political patronage.

As for tobacco, it is definitely more harmful than alcohol. But, most smokers have been switching to so-called electronic cigarettes lately, the consumption of which is called “vaping”. An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a device that allows users to inhale nicotine by heating a vapour from a solution that contain nicotine, propylene and flavourings. As there is no burning involved, there is no smoke like a traditional cigarette. But while they have been branded as carrying a lower risk than cigarettes, an increasing number of studies is showing health dangers. Although E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, the vapor does contain harmful chemicals.

Vapers who use e-cigarettes every day are nearly twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as non-smokers, new research suggests. People who smoked before switching to e-cigarettes have an even higher risk of having a heart attack, while those who do both at the same time are most at risk.

These revelations from the University of California, San Francisco, show that vapers who smoked traditional cigarettes before switching to e-cigarettes are three times as likely to suffer a heart attack as someone who has never smoked. Speaking of the results, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, a researcher said: ‘Someone who continues to smoke daily while using e-cigarettes, daily increases the odds of a heart attack by a factor of five.”

The study shows, there is no “safe” alternative to conventional tobacco in the form of cigarettes and pipes. The only “safe” alternative is to give up smoking altogether, whether conventional cigarette or E-cigarette. It is already well known that the risk of a heart attack starts to drop immediately after someone stops smoking. His or her life expectancy also rises proportionately.

In democracies such as ours, everyone is free to consume any product as long as it is legally available. The Government has put many measures in place to discourage the consumption and abuse of both alcohol and tobacco, but there are people who will consume them anyway. Indeed, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco is a purely personal choice.

But, it is better to keep away from these vices in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are absolutely not good for your health.