Canada is in the process of improving its low-risk alcohol use guidelines. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has updated the country’s the low-risk alcohol use guidelines to a maximum of two alcoholic drinks per week.
CCSA was created by Parliament to provide national leadership to address substance use in Canada. As trusted counsel, the CCSA provides national guidance to decision makers by harnessing the power of research, curating knowledge and bringing together diverse perspectives.
The CCSA is currently holding a four-week, online consultation from Aug. 29 to Sept. 23, 2022 on the Update of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines: Final Report for Public Consultation.
While there is no safe level for alcohol use specifically for certain diseases such as cancer, which the CCSA recognizes in their final report, low-risk guidelines help those who use alcohol to lower their risk of falling ill with these diseases.
The update to the guidelines comes 10 years after they were established in 2011.
The CCSA undertook an extensive analysis of almost 6000 research studies on alcohol’s harm to health to update the low-risk guidelines. Four committees, including three scientific expert panels were formed to review the evidence.
According to the report, alcohol use risk thresholds should ideally be set between 4 and 11 grams per day (28 to 77 grams per week) for males and females in Canada. This is about two standard alcoholic drinks per week.
The report informs the public on the latest science that led to this update, including that,
- Any level of alcohol consumption had a net negative impact on health for almost every disease reviewed.
- Health risks are low when consuming two or fewer standard alcoholic drinks per week.
- Health risks become moderate when using between three and six standard alcoholic drinks per week.
- The health risks become increasingly high when someone has six or more standard alcoholic drinks per week.
- For women who have three or more standard alcoholic drinks per week, the risk of health issues increases more steeply compared to men.
According to the CCSA, a standard alcoholic drink in Canada is 17.05 ml or 13.45 g of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to:
- 12oz/ 341ml of 5% ABV beer or cider.
- 5oz/ 142ml of 12% ABV wine.
- 1.5oz/ 43ml of 40% ABV shot glass of spirits.
An example of the risk as modeled in the report is if a man consumes about five grams of alcohol per day on average they have a 16% increased risk of developing liver cirrhosis.
This risk shoots up to more than 306% with 50 grams of alcohol per day.
Women are exposed to even more harm than men if they consume three or more standard alcoholic drinks per week. There are several reasons for this including differences in metabolism.
As the latest CCSA report shows, one major elevated risk of alcohol in women is breast cancer.
One in 35 women will die because of breast cancer in Canada. Having six standard units of alcohol per week increases the risk of breast cancer in women by 10%.
According to the report, alcohol use in Canada causes nearly 7,000 cases of cancer deaths each year.
The key message out of this project is that when it comes to alcohol, less is better. Everyone should try to reduce their alcohol use,” said Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst at CCSA and co-chair of Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, as per CBC.Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst, CCSA and co-chair of Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines
Experts call for health warning labels on alcohol containers
The experts at CCSA who worked on the low-risk guidelines recommend including cancer warning labeling, the number of standard alcoholic drinks, and other nutritional information on alcohol containers. The Canadian people have a right to know the real risks and potential harm due to alcohol.
A growing number of health experts, advocacy groups, and communities are now calling on the government to implement mandatory health warning labels on alcohol products such as those used on cigarette packets.
In 2017, research conducted under the direction of Dr. Tim Stockwell and reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs demonstrated the effectiveness of alcohol health warning labels in Canada. In the study, the researchers experimented with adding alcohol warning labels to alcohol goods at a sizable government-owned liquor store in Whitehorse with the Yukon Territory government’s approval.
The results showed a 6.6% sales decrease in Yukon compared to a 6.9% increase in sales in a nearby territory used as the control group.
Nevertheless, efforts to raise public understanding of alcohol harm in Canada have been thwarted by the alcohol industry lobby. Even Dr. Stockwell’s study, which was initially planned to last for eight months, was terminated after just one month due to threats from the alcohol industry to file lawsuits. The alcohol industry derailed the study and then released media comments that misrepresented and denied the findings.
Spirits Canada, the lobby front group for the Canadian alcohol industry, has made the usual alcohol industry arguments. The organization’s president and CEO, Jan Wescott, claims that they wanted customers to be aware of the risks but not through health warning labels. Warning labels, according to Mr. Wescott, are “too expensive” and “misleading.”
The major players in the alcohol industry, including Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Campari Group, Diageo, and Pernod Ricard, are represented by Spirits Canada.
Contrary to what the alcohol industry maintains, research has revealed that alcohol causes cancer. Alcohol businesses are also very profitable and frequently modify their labels to coincide with promotional events.
It is evident that the Canadian federal government must take action to implement health warning labeling and other necessary information on alcohol products to protect Canadian citizens’ right to better understand and recognize the real effects of alcohol.
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction: “Consultation on Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines opens today“
City News Everywhere: “1 drink a day means higher risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer: Report“
The Globe and Mail: “A new measure of unhealthy drinking“