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A title of an article appearing in the March 28, 2019 issue of The Spectator by Christopher Snowden, “The Campaign to Make Alcohol ‘The New Tobacco’”, seems to be more than a shot across the bow of all thing’s alcohol. Over the last decade there has been an increase in dueling research findings purporting the benefits or dangers of alcohol consumption. Now the anti-alcohol contingent seems to be increasing their proclamations through studies, which may be more defective than claims in the pro-alcohol research. Bottom-line, any research can be manipulated; the devil is in the details. There certainly seems to be flaws in all research; what are we to believed?

The wine industry should take the attack on alcohol seriously; it is gaining acceptance and credibility, no matter how contrived the research and resultant messages. Remember when research once indicted coffee was a real health issue? Today research says coffee is an anti-oxidant and is healthful; drink all you want. Just reflect for a moment about all the things once believed to be beneficial and now are considered harmful and vice versa. At one time butter was bad and margarine was better, now we are told chemicals in margarine are far worse than natural fats in butter.

Having followed wine studies, since the French Paradox (1980’s,) and the protestations on the various effects of wine on health, it now appears there are orchestrated campaigns to call out all alcohol consumption as being detrimental. “Two widely reported studies in The Lancet claimed that there is no safe level of drinking. The evidence in these studies, such as it was, didn’t actually support that claim,” says Snowden. What are we to believe? Still, it appears the media, academia and the medical establishment have globed onto most any anti-alcohol study and become an ambassador of the new “anti” cause. The anti-alcohol movement is now between doctor and patient. Every time I go to the doctor I am asked if I drink wine, beer, or spirits and how often. Why and when did this start? And, yes, people have died from drinking too much water!

Relative to the article noted above, author Dr. Alex Berezow writing for “American Council on Science and Health” in 2018, seems to highlight many flaws in the same study. Before an oenophile succumbs to total confusion, simply stated, don’t rely on everything you read on negative facts about wine and health. The wine industry will also need to anticipate changes in trends concerning how wine is perceived by various demographics.

The elephant in the room today, that no one in media wants to talk about, are the effects of cannabis–smoking or ingesting. Many of those shouting about negative effects of wine seem to be oblivious to cannabis. So why aren’t media and researchers in a full-blown frontal assault on the health effects of cannabis? The general impression many accept is that cannabis is harmless physiologically, to the point that research to the contrary is discounted by people in media and government. Even some wine and beer now come infused with chemical compounds originating from cannabis.

Sam Blanchard, writing for Mail Online on April 4, 2019, comments about a study on alcohol written by Professor Kent Hutchison, at the University of Colorado Boulder who said, “While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol.” “Problem is, the study also raises many more questions than portrayed by selective facts. One question would be: Why was alcohol studied in individuals that experienced very heavy drinking while participant marijuana users were mostly casual users?” ask Blanchard.

In the final analysis: is cannabis that is entering the wine industry setting a trap for wine? The answer probably lies in how the industry responds.

Snowden makes a further point worth considering. When comparing research concerning alcohol related cancers with those type cancers indigenous to smokers, there does not seem to be statistical or epidemiological relevance. “Epidemiological studies have shown a strong and consistent association between moderate alcohol consumption and lower mortalitymostly thanks to lower rates of cardiovascular disease. So, on the one hand, we have decades of epidemiological evidence backed up by biological experiments which show that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of death from heart disease by 15-30 per cent, and, on the other hand, we have a slimmer body of epidemiological evidence which suggests that moderate alcohol consumption might have a small effect on breast cancer risk,” Snowden elaborated.

Whatever the reason, portraying any alcohol product as evil has been part of the American landscape since the late 1800’s. Prohibition came about in 1919 and lasted until 1933. It does seem every industry has an “anti” influence driving the impetus of the cause. We find these type forces in politics, religion, even medicine. Now wine is under a renewed attack; positive research is discounted and “anti” is the cause-celeb. (Anti is defined as: people opposed to a party, policy, attitude, etc.) 

Here is a dated but still welcomed bit of news. “Red wine and the anti-oxidant in red wine called resveratrol may be heart healthy,” says Mayo Clinic Staff. “Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine.”

Whatever is driving the current research and conversation about wine and alcohol, it is a fact that the conversation has moved from one promoting moderation in alcohol consumption, to one proclaiming alcohol at any level is destructive to the body. But, why would anyone now discount and even disregard positive research on benefits of wine? There are articles on the web that tout wine benefits, such as “80 Amazing Benefits of Wine”, by Tehrene Firman from an October 2017. Some of the more prominent benefits of wine relate to heart health and cognitive function. Nonetheless, contradictions in studies are obvious and prevalent and widely believed; absent sound research methods.

Conversely, I found an article highlighting 23 negative effects of wine/alcohol when consumed in excess. The key word is “excess”. The key to internalizing all negative studies about wine and alcohol is that most studies denote the issue of excessive consumption. As noted, it is also a fact that people have died of excessive water consumption.

It was interesting to see how far people will reach to brutalize wine. One negative article, pointing out the negative effects of wine, because of the types of chemicals used in vineyards. But, isn’t that true of most all food produced in soil? Strange sense of logic. Current wisdom about alcohol, especially on health, is subject to change; and probably will change.

The alcoholic beverage industry has several genres: beer, spirits, wine, and kombucha; even within these there are variations such as cider and hybrid blends. Kombucha is an interesting beverage because it is positioned as a “healthy” beverage which is fermented product of tea’s and does contain various levels of alcohol; some as high at 7%. So, is there a contradiction in kombucha being positioned as-healthful? It is consumed by people proclaiming the health benefits of this beverage; but it still contains alcohol.

Maybe any course of action or response by the wine industry could be an overreaction. Consider, maybe inaction brought on Prohibition?

Should a refreshed approach by the wine industry deemed to be appropriate, the response should be timely, educated, fact based, on-going and mindful of a changing market; “anti” causes always live-on and require responses. Also, recognize that millennial consumers of alcohol are concerned about alcohol levels and health concerns. These 2 features are relatively new to the mix.

Still, what drives people to wine as a beverage are:

  • Conviviality
  • Entertainment-Enjoyment and compliment to food.
  • Celebration-Wine is the oldest alcoholic drink and over the years has always been part of celebrations and commemoration.
  • Culture-Many cultures have elevated wine to be the premium beverage with food, family, and entertaining.

Digressing for a moment. The issue of cannabis is not brought up to confuse the issue that alcohol is purported (by some) to be total detrimental for the body under any circumstance. It is only being pointing out that most any research is occasionally weaponized to make a point based upon an “anti” cause. Research still highlights that most people believe “pot” has many negative cultural effects.

Primarily, issues with alcohol consumption seems to be most notable in the wine sector. Craft spirit consumption over the last few years has increased as has craft beers. Wine has been experiencing a slight down-turn. “Wine Intelligence”, reports a 5% drop off in millennials consuming wine and overall there has been a 35% decrease in adults drinking wine at least once per month.

In German speaking Switzerland, 2013 surveys found 39% drank wine and in 2017 the wine drinking population dropped to 27%.

“Drinks Business” reported in March 2019 that UK wine consumption declined by 2%-2016 versus 2017. They attribute the decline to: US Whiskey; demand for lower and non-alcohol drinks preferences; and moderating consumption.

No one is recommending a campaign by alcohol producers to promote consumption. That said, wine is a unique beverage with a specific profile of the consumer, as opposed to beer and spirits. The wine industry might consider a tailored message to millennials; a demographic exhibiting a decrease in wine consumption. (Research is indicating that millennials are more conscience/receptive to health messaging, costs, and consuming non-alcohol alternative beverages.) When wine starts getting into the 16% ABV maybe there is an issue.

When a business stops growing it starts dying; a quote that has been around. Nonetheless it has some degree of truth for this discussion. To ensure growth maybe the wine industry can allocate time and resources promoting and reinforcing the message that wine has the longest history of all alcohol drinks. The positive research on benefits of wine is impressive, well documented, and has a heritage across many cultures. Wine in nowhere near the heritage or contribution to society as does tobacco. I doubt the voracity in any effort to make wine the new tobacco.

Cheers!

Steven LayExpert Editorial
by Steven Lay, owner, Image of Wine

Steven Lay has spent 30 years in the travel exhibition industry holding C level positions in Marketing and Product Development. Most recently Mr. Lay was the Chief Marketing Officer for a major on-line travel company. Currently, he owns a company that produces wine related gift/award products for large corporate events and a produces a tour program to New World wine areas.

 
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