Australia’s alcohol lobby has started a bar fight with new health guidelines, saying they are a ‘nanny state crusade’ based on cherry-picked data.
Alcohol guidelines by the National Health and Medical Research Council set in 2009 was to have no more than 14 standard drinks a week.
But the organisation has now slashed that to 10 standard drinks per week or four in any one day, claiming that will reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm.
Industry group Alcohol Beverages Australia is vehemently opposed to cutting the limit, accusing the NHMRC of trying to demonise booze and guilt-trip drinkers.
New alcohol guidelines are expected to be accepted later this month, reducing the ‘safe’ limit
Brewers and winemakers, however, have accused the NHMRC of trying to copy the zero-tolerance tactics that were used against tobacco
The group claims there is no scientific evidence to support the lowered limit or the prevailing anti-alcohol advice in the guidelines.
‘The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. For some people not drinking at all is the safest option,’ the NHMRC said in its release at the time.
The guidelines provide advice for people to reduce their risk of harm from drinking alcohol, to provide evidence for policymaking and to help state and federal health bodies create educational materials.
They also recommended those younger than 18 don’t drink at all, and that women who are pregnant or planning to have a baby avoid alcohol.
Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy claimed the new guidelines could save thousands of lives.
Brewers and winemakers, however, have accused the NHMRC of trying to copy the zero-tolerance tactics that were used against tobacco.
The ABA will release its own new research on Monday challenging the data relied on by the health body to create the guidelines, and asking the NHMRC to explain its conclusions.
The alcohol lobby says consumers were not consulted on ‘strict’ new guidelines. Stock image
The ABA will argue that a Sheffield University study on which the NHMRC relied actually shows a person who drinks nothing has exactly the same risk of death as a person who consumes 28 standard drinks a week, The Australian reported.
The NHMRC omitted this from its report and instead ‘cherry-picked’ the data that painted alcohol in the worst possible light, ABA claimed.
In the ABA’s submission to the NHMRC in March, the ABA said the Sheffield study’s model had not been made available for independent review ‘and hence does not represent open and transparent science’.
The industry lobby group claims that moderate alcohol consumption has a protective effect in relation to cardiovascular disease.
In its new analysis, it will say that moderate alcohol consumption saves more than 3,500 Australians a year from chronic conditions.
The ABA also complained that alcohol consumers were not consulted in the development of the guidelines.
University of Sydney Professor Kate Conigrave said the draft guidelines reflected the best available science.
‘The biggest change is there is more evidence that the risk of cancer can go up from fairly low levels of drinking,’ she told reporters when the new guidelines were released last December.
Alcohol Beverages Australia chief executive officer Andrew Wilsmore said the guidelines came at a time when fewer people were drinking at dangerous levels.
‘The rate of alcohol consumption has been coming down for years, so you have to wonder whether this is some last-ditch nanny state crusade to treat all alcohol consumption as life-threatening,’ he told The Australian.
‘There is simply no evidence to support such a claim.’
The alcohol lobby group also claims the links between alcohol and cancer has been overstated, providing its own analysis saying the increased risk is marginal, with alcohol consumption linked to just 2.8 per cent of all cancers in Australia.
The Cancer Council disagrees, saying on its website that drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the throat, mouth, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver and breast.
‘Oral cancers are six times more common in alcohol drinkers than in non-drinkers,’ it says on its website.
The new draft guidelines are expected to be accepted as the official new Australian alcohol advice this month.
Long-term effects of regular heavy drinking
Brain: Drinking too much can affect your concentration, judgement, mood and memory. It increases your risk of having a stroke and developing dementia.
Heart: Heavy drinking increases your blood pressure and can lead to heart damage and heart attacks.
Liver: Drinking 3 to 4 standard drinks a day increases your risk of developing liver cancer. Long-term heavy drinking also puts you at increased risk of liver cirrhosis (scarring) and death.
Stomach: Drinking even 1 to 2 standard drinks a day increases your risk of stomach and bowel cancer, as well as stomach ulcers.
Fertility: Regular heavy drinking reduces men’s testosterone levels, sperm count and fertility. For women, drinking too much can affect their periods.
Source: Health Direct