Statement by Former American Medical Association Chair Raymond Scalettar, M.D.

(Medical advisor to the Distilled Spirits Council)

The alcohol industry is strongly opposed to abusive alcohol consumption in any form.  We support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ongoing Global Alcohol Strategy on the Harmful Use of Alcohol, which was adopted unanimously in 2010 by its 193 member states.  They decided not to pursue a tobacco-like framework convention on alcohol because one size does not fit all, and most individuals around the world drink moderately and responsibly.

Thus, we strongly disagree with the Nature commentary by University of Oxford professor Devi Sridhar calling for a simplistic prescription to address all alcohol problems in different countries in the same manner.

As WHO points out, illegal and potentially poisonous unregulated alcohol in places such as Russia and some developing countries are responsible for much of the harm.  Raising taxes on legitimate products will only increase this dangerous consumption of illicit alcohol.  The population-based control measures advocated by Sridhar are also clearly not appropriate for countries like the United States.  Here, underage drinking and drunk driving rates have reached historic lows levels through tough law enforcement, education and targeted interventions.

Further, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death among women and men in the United States.  Many studies also show moderate alcohol consumption is associated with the lowest all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults.  In fact, a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited moderate alcohol consumption as one of four key healthy lifestyle behaviors.  (Link to CDC Study Abstract: Low-risk Lifestyle Behaviors and All-Cause Mortality)

Even WHO acknowledges the beneficial health effects of moderate alcohol consumption and that most of the adult population drinks at low-risk levels or abstains altogether.  To the extent, that moderate consumers would be most affected by this heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all approach, those benefits would be lost.

Far better is WHO’s current Global Alcohol Strategy where all stakeholders are working together.  It’s time that anti-alcohol advocates stop undermining this process that is working well.