The new UK study received extensive coverage in the UK press, more sporadic attention in the US. Most journalists included both the major findings and the authors’ reluctance to advise drinking for health reasons. One prominent observer of alcohol policy issues, whose work we’ve cited on several occasions, Christopher Snowdon, could not resist. The columnist for The Spectator, research fellow for UK’s Institute of Economic Affairs and self-proclaimed critic of the Nanny State asked and answered a pertinent question about this “latest in a long line of studies stretching over 5 decades”: Why won’t public health admit that moderate drinking is good for the heart? Two reasons, Snowdon explains: 1) “the public health lobby fears that non-drinkers will become alcoholics if they are advised to have a glass of wine. Put simply, they don’t trust us”; 2) many public health campaigners “think that alcohol is the new smoking and want to co-opt the ‘no safe level’ slogan that’s worked so well in the war on tobacco.” This helps explain why the study’s authors and public health officials stress that diet and exercise are safer ways to reduce cardiovascular risks.
Snowdon also explains why public health’s stance matters. “It matters because we are being treated like children who cannot handle nuanced information…. It is an insult to our intelligence for the scolds of ‘public health’ to speak to us as if the only message we can comprehend is ‘abstinence is good, drinking bad.’” This attitude leads to zero tolerance and Britain’s Chief Medical Officer saying there is “no safe level” of alcohol consumption, Snowdon reminds, an attitude that is “dragging us into this cartoon parallel universe.”