Even though alcohol is practically ubiquitous in social culture, it has a catastrophic impact on people’s health.
While Health Canada data shows that anywhere between four to five million Canadians engage in “high risk” drinking, a recent study also linked alcohol to seven different kinds of cancer. But the most troubling stats come from the World Health Organization, which reports that among those aged 20-39, almost one-quarter of all deaths can be attributed to drinking. That’s an astounding amount of damage for something we often consume without a second thought.
It’s also why many researchers are scrambling to find ways to make the beverages less harmful and destructive.
According to a new review published in Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, the folks at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have come up with one possible solution: Watering down everyone’s booze.
“The idea is that a small reduction in alcohol – such as beer with four per cent ethanol content versus six per cent – would reduce alcohol intake per drinker even if the same overall amount of beverage is consumed,” Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, said in a statement.
It might not sound like the most appealing option, but it arguably beats alternative measures of harm reduction, like additional taxation or regulation. Those factors also make this proposal more likely to be accepted by the alcohol industry itself, CAMH reports.
We know what you’re thinking though: Won’t a reduction in alcohol content simply lead to people drinking more?
According to CAMH, the answer is no.
“We know from experiments that consumers can’t distinguish between beers of different strengths,” Dr. Rehm said, citing multiple studies.
There’s already proof that such policies can work. The Northern Territories of Australia created a tax on alcohol with more than three per cent ethanol (the most harmful ingredient in alcoholic beverages), which led to increased access to lower-strength beer. In this case, the policy resulted in fewer alcohol-related deaths, although there were other factors involved, such as greater educational efforts around alcohol.
With all that said, it’s worth noting that Health Canada reports the majority of Canadians drink “in moderation.” But the health problems created from alcohol still pose an immense cost to the Canadian government. Dr. Gregory Taylor, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, notes that costs related to alcohol in Canada equaled approximately $14.6 billion in 2002. Alcohol abuse accounted for 4,258 deaths (roughly 1.9 per cent of all fatalities nationwide) that same year.
Who knows, we might be better off with a little less alcohol in our drinks.