I vaguely remember when a figure of 50 units a week was bandied about as the level above which risk does start to increase steeply. It has then more formally stated as 28 units a week, then 21, then 21 for men and 14 for women. Most recently, it was reduced to 14 units for both sexes purely on the grounds of equality, as there was no scientific basis for this given men’s typically larger body size and different metabolism. But the basic principle remains that official bodies recognise that drinking a modest amount of alcohol isn’t inconsistent with a healthy lifestyle.
What is more, there’s a wealth of evidence that drinking a moderate quantity actually results in better health outcomes than total abstention. It’s sometimes claimed that the figures are distorted by the inclusion of “sick quitters”, people who have had to give up alcohol after it caused them serious problems but, as Christopher Snowdon explains here, the effect still applies even when they are discounted.
This presents a major problem for the anti-drink lobby, as they are unable to present alcohol as being universally bad. They also argue that it gives the alcohol industry a figleaf of respectability, as they are able to promote it as a mainstream, responsible product even when they know that many of their customers consume well above the official guidelines. Hence it becomes a kind of holy grail to be able to convert the official line to one of saying that any level of consumption is harmful.this article. I’m not aware anything in the underlying science has changed, and it remains a subject of debate. Remember that these are the people who want national governments to surrender their authority to them to determine future pandemic policy.
Even accepting the underlying premise, the risk level at low levels of consumption remains very small and not something that really should concern people. People engage in all kinds of leisure activities for their own pleasure that even at minimal levels cannot be said to be entirely free of risk. You might as well say “there is no safe level of mountaineering.” There’s also a risk that it might encourage a mentality of “might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb”. The current guidelines, while extremely over-cautious, are not bad advice as such. Replace them with “even a drop is dangerous” and people are deprived of any yardstick to assess risk.
However, official acceptance of this position will over time completely change alcohol’s position in society. It will inevitably lead to moves to discourage the presentation of alcohol in a positive light. Pressure will be stepped up to further restrict advertising, and drinks will be excluded from export promotions and celebrations of local produce. Despite years of doing their best to appease the anti-drink lobby, the drinks industry will be left in the same position as tobacco, as a “toxic trade” excluded from polite society.
And this, of course, is why the anti-drink lobby are so keen to push this message, and why it needs to be strongly resisted.