In-depth Research Volume: A Powerful Counter to the Neo-Temperance Lobby

By | 20 April 2024

Tony Edwards’ conscientious new book takes aim at the Prohibitionist turn in public health messaging on alcohol.


Dr Erik Skovenborg

Dr Erik Skovenborg reviews The Very Good News about Wineby Tony Edwards.

The small size of The Very Good News about Wine belies the sheer volume of information to be found on its 171 pages. Drawing on the evidence from 340 references, the book covers all imaginable wine and health issues—from the big C (cancer), to the small c (common cold). This conscientious examination of what the science really says about the health effects of alcohol consumption in general, and of wine in particular, is no small feat; to be able to cut through the fog of contradictory stories about alcohol and health, you need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of thousands of studies.

In Tony Edwards’s newest publication, the solid evidence of a beneficial effect of moderate wine consumption is presented in chapter 3 (Heart Disease), chapter 4 (Diabetes), and chapter 5 (Dementia). Chapter 10 (Living Longer) provides enjoyable insights for those who aim to age gracefully with a well-stocked wine cellar. However, this review will focus on chapters 2 (The Big C) and 14 (Dis- Mis- and Mal- Information), which offer greatest benefits to the wine enthusiast. The author sheds light on complex health and alcohol-related issues with his book The Very Good News About Wine, exposing content one cannot find elsewhere and providing an antidote to the ongoing 21st-century “Prohibition” campaign.

Alcohol consumption has been more closely linked with some cancers than others, presenting indeed a grave problem. But encouragingly, the survival rate for stage 1 breast cancer is 98.3 percent. Alarming however, cancer societies appear to utilize the general fear of cancer, particularly breast cancer, to achieve their ends by stating that “Even drinking small amounts of alcohol has been linked with an increase in risk. It is better not to drink alcohol at all.” Therefore, let us scrutinize the evidence of a causal relation between “small amounts of alcohol” and the risk of breast cancer.


Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, asserts, “There is no such thing as a so-called safe level of alcohol use. From the moment you take your first sip of any alcoholic drink, you put your health at risk. The greater your consumption, the higher your danger or, in other words, the less you drink, the safer you are. Establishing a ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption would require concrete scientific evidence proving the non-existence of any risk of illness or injury associated with alcohol consumption at and below a certain level. However, the recent WHO statement clarifies that currently there is no evidence to suggest a threshold at which the carcinogenic effects of alcohol ‘switch on’ and become apparent in the human body.”1

While it’s technically accurate to state “No safe level of alcohol intake,” such a mantra is irrational considering that no human activity carries zero risk. Comprehending this requires knowledge about risk principles, a complicated mathematical field that’s central to the health-anxiety industry. Those asserting “no safe level” carry the burden of proof. This claim is plain nonsensical—or even worse, when it comes from the WHO, it’s “pseudoscience.” True scientific methodologies, involving systematic observation, analysis, and conclusion-making, can never demonstrate that risk is negligible. How can the WHO propose a magical study that can provide “valid scientific evidence” indicating that there’s no disease or injury risk associated with alcohol consumption below a certain level?

Let’s switch from the fear of cancer to the fear of flying, which is more common than you might imagine. The 1988 film Rain Man features Raymond, an autistic character played by Dustin Hoffman, who refuses to fly to Los Angeles, quoting several famous plane crashes. However, he deems one airline safe: “Qantas never crashed,” Raymond states. Indeed, Qantas has an exceptional safety record, but no airline can assure aerophobia sufferers of flight safety levels where accidents never happen. According to IATA’s 2022 Global Aviation Safety Report, on average, you’d need to fly daily for 25,214 years for a fatal accident to occur.

Despite no demonstration of a safe flying level, if we need to travel from point A to point B, whether for work or leisure, we should be comfortable embracing the minimal risk and enjoying the journey. The fallacious “No safe level” mantra overlooks why people consume alcohol. Likely, those who decide to drink wine obtain some pleasure from it, and this enjoyment needs to be weighed against any perceived risk. If you believe that universal abstention isn’t an ethically justified desirable goal supported scientifically, The Very Good News about Wine is the ideal book for your upcoming vacation.

About 160 years ago, Abraham Lincoln declared, “None seemed to think the injury arose from the use of a bad thing, but from the misuse of a very good thing”. Recently, another interesting perspective was provided by Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s former Chief Medical Officer. In 2016, she brushed off the convincing evidence, compiled over more than four decades of observational studies, suggesting that drinking a glass of red wine daily is beneficial. She urged us to contemplate cancer every time we consider having a glass of wine, which led a researcher from the University of Basel to comment about her being “drunk on risk” (British Medical Journal, 352, 2016, i1175).

Dame Sally Davies and Dr Ferreira-Borges, along with their colleagues in the neo-temperance coalition, hold influential positions in public health institutions and NGOs concentrating on alcohol abuse. Their primary concern is the extensive global health and economic impact of alcohol usage. They’re concerned, however, that in a field rife with strong convictions and perspectives about alcohol exposure and public health, a review of relevant scientific literature might be skewed by public health administrators cherry-picking analysis results that align with their preconceived theories. This form of “White Hat Bias” (WHB) may distort information towards what might be deemed noble aims, and could be fueled by feelings of zealous righteousness, indignation towards the alcohol industry, and more.

Having concerns about alcohol’s toxicity or skepticism about the health benefits of moderate drinking doesn’t necessarily denote bias. Bias comes into play when these concerns are selectively applied to alcohol consumption as a hazard, while simultaneously accepting findings related to obesity, physical activity, or consumption of fruits and vegetables from similar epidemiological studies. This WHB mindset could lead to thoughts like: “If people knew how healthy wine actually is, they’d drink themselves to death.”

Gerald Asher, who served as wine editor for Gourmet magazine for over three decades, held an extensive understanding of wine, wineries, and vineyards. His 1981 dinner speech, “A little of what you fancy”, at the Wine, Health, and Society Symposium in San Francisco, kicked off with a confession: “I do not drink wine for subversive reasons like improving my rate of high-density lipoproteins or aiding my digestion in pulling more nutrients from food. I drink wine because I enjoy it, it brings happiness, and it encourages me to appreciate others.”

Perhaps, public health policy should focus on the healthy ways in which most people consume alcohol. Unfortunately, as chapter 14’s guidelines in The Very Good News about Wine suggest, we’re not close to this ideal scenario. Hence, we require insights from Tony Edwards and others who are boldly criticizing the “No safe level” norm to provide a balanced perspective on our preferred alcoholic beverages.

The Very Good News about Wine

Tony Edwards

Self-published; available on / 171 pages; £12.99

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