Alcohol: the ‘health vs. pleasure’ debate

Alcohol: the ‘health vs. pleasure’ debate

Nicholas Corfe, Commercial Director at Go Brazil Wines and Spirits (UK) Ltd, shares his views on the ‘health vs. pleasure’ debate when it comes to the UK’s consumption of alcohol.

A global study into the effects of drinking alcohol published in the Lancet last month was given wide publicity, not least because of the authors’ conclusion that there is ‘no safe limit’ to how much we should drink, and that any benefits derived therefrom are outweighed by the potential damage to health. This report follows the UK government’s advice, updated in 2016, which recommends a maximum weekly intake of 14 units of alcohol for both men and women (and which was previously set at 21 and 14 units, respectively).

However some of the claims in this study, presented by the Bill Gates Foundation-funded Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation, were found to be suspect, for example the assertion that ‘most of the UK drink well in excess of safe limits’ – a statement contradicting research from other sources which suggests the true figure is closer to 25% (while statistics from the wine industry indicates that total UK wine consumption has remained broadly static for the last five years ).

Perhaps most tellingly, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, pointed out that the actual base level of risk is very small – less than 1% – and that even a consumption level of 5 units per day would still only increase that risk to 1.4%.

The Professor went on to say that such a small risk “needs to be traded off against enjoyment” and that ‘there is no safe level of living, but surely no one would recommend abstention’’! Indeed, there is no doubt that many pubs have a social and community function, which go far beyond the drinking of beer, bringing benefits which are probably incalculable.

Surely the key point is that in an open, democratic society, the risks attached to any activity need to be balanced with the well-being, pleasure and revenue derived from it.

In the case of drinking, Government is certainly under an obligation to highlight any health risks, but neither should it be forgotten that the UK Exchequer receives more than £17 bn. p.a. in excise duty and VAT on the sale of wines and spirits.

In conclusion, the consumption and enjoyment of alcohol presents a double-sided sword to society, with the ‘health versus pleasure’ debate unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

Visit the Go Brazil Wines website for more information and to view their selection of specialist wines.

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