Exactly how Thirsty ARE we?


Sometimes, there are things that feel contradictory.  Sometimes, there is an awareness of irony.

To tell the truth, I was looking forward to the Ready to be Thirsty challenge. I was feeling low energy and overweight, and I wanted a chance to ‘dry out’.  In twelve days, I’ve already lost weight and I feel really good.  No kidding.

And there are a bunch of people out there doing the challenge at the same time, and we are working – individually, collectively – to stay alcohol-free for the month of February.

Yet, this morning read an article about wine in grocery stores from Martin Cohn in the Toronto Star, and I feel like the mountain grows taller as the climber is upon it.  Like trying to ice-skate uphill.  Like swimming a bunch of pineapples out to Hawaii.  Like an oil-field worker in Alberta, perhaps.

There’s no denying that alcohol is a business, and this is just another in a series of decisions to stimulate the alcohol industry and create growth in Ontario.  I don’t know – perhaps Ontarians are happy (or indifferent) to see beer and wine in grocery stores.  But we know that increased access equals increased consumption and harms and costs.  To the health care system.  To lives – you know, like…people, children, us.

It seems ironic to me that we can be working hard as individuals to control, or learn about our own alcohol consumption…and we have an industry working hard to shove alcohol to the top of the shopping list. Even though the risks of moderate to heavy consumption are massive, well-known and being broadcast farther.

Alcohol causes cancer.  So does tobacco.  If we were seeing the same work to expand access to cigarettes, there would be protests and outrage.


Photo by Robert Terrell via Flickr.  Creative Commons.  No changes. 

Second-Hand Drinking

smoking-cigarette-and-beer-in-pint-glass-ajhd1This is a very interesting way to look at alcohol harms and is following in the footsteps of tobacco awareness raising and policy development. Alcohol is not inhaled, nor is it consumed by those surrounded by the product. Cigarette smoke, on the other hand, is. Alcohol is a mood altering substance and produces intoxicating effects, where tobacco does not. Both have negative impacts on the wellbeing of others.

Most of the research on alcohol-related harms has focused on harms to the drinker. To fully understand the impact of alcohol, it is also necessary to examine the harms to others including the obvious ones (such as people affected by drunk drivers and women consuming alcohol while pregnant) and the not so obvious ones (such as children living with an alcohol dependent parent and caregivers of individuals with alcohol related illness or injury).

With tobacco smoke it is clear that any second-hand smoke is detrimental; it isn’t so cut and dry with second hand alcohol exposure.

Fame is a Dangerous Drug

Looking at the celebrity world, substance (ab)use has been a long standing issue. Many individuals have struggled or are struggling with substance use, while some have had their lives cut short.

All of us, including our children, are exposed to all sorts of negative life circumstances via pop culture and celebrities, which normalizes these actions. From using alcohol, drugs and tobacco, to sexual promiscuity and domestic assault, it’s a long, long list of bad behaviours.

The article Fame is a Dangerous Drug talks about the addiction of being famous and the developmental process a celebrity often goes through:

“Fame and celebrity can closely mirror substance abuse symptomology — and over time, result in actual substance abuse, isolation, mistrust, dysfunctional adaptation to fame, and then, too often, untimely death.”

Do you talk to your children about celebrity behaviours? What do you say?

The Infamous Solo Cup

Sometimes the world-wide-web is well-informed, and sometimes…not so much.  If you’ve been to any school in the recent past, you might recall your teacher or professor telling you – check your sources.

I first found the image to the left on a website that may or may not be accurate. In fact, it’s a site dedicated to “promoting the mental & physical benefits and enjoyment of daily sex, coffee, cigars, and alcohol”.  Doesn’t sound too scientific, but let’s think on it for a moment.

Admittedly, there are substantiated cardiac and psychological health benefits to sex, while modest use of alcohol provides a mild protective factor for cardiac health and diabetes (though even modest use has other health implications). Tobacco use slowly destroys your health and seriously outweighs any perceived benefits. And we’ll leave coffee out of this discussion.

I notice the cup above, with its expansive ‘rings’.  Supposedly these are markings that coincide with measurements for volume. As such, they might assist serving staff in knowing how much is the right amount when they fill your glass. Or, they might help you at your next family barbeque, when you are guessing how much beer to serve Aunt Gina.

Unfortunately, this website posted the image without links or references, so we are left amused, but questioning its validity.  In fact, we are hereby accepting the photo above as a challenge of sorts.  We are going to get downright Newtonian here at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and we are going to find a cup akin (let us hope, identical) to the image above. We are going to measure the various volumes this cup can hold, relative to the rings, and once measured, we will gladly report our results here.

Until we return with these results, we suggest that there is always value in knowing how much you are consuming, be it wine, beer or spirits.  Furthermore, it’s important to know the alcohol percentages and the true volume of the alcohol you might ingest.  This is for protecting both your driver’s license AND your long-term health.  Stay tuned.

Alcohol in the Media – Boozing Theatres and Advertising to Kids

Welcome to our movie theatre – Would you like a beer or glass of wine for tonight’s show?

Moviegoers in British Columbia can now enjoy a drink while watching their favourite flick.  What I find interesting is the different path being taken on two different products that negatively affect our health: tobacco and alcohol.  While tobacco laws across the country continue to get tougher, limiting the places you can smoke, alcohol laws seem to be moving in the opposite direction.  We’ve already seen relaxed festival drinking rules in Ontario, allowing people to drink outside of the tents.  Are movie theatres next?  Do we really need more places and opportunity to drink?  Or should we be questioning the direction of these laws and thinking about who might be lobbying for them?

New tools shows extent of youth exposure to alcohol advertising on the radio in 2009

This is probably the coolest thing I’ve read this week related to alcohol.  The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) recently released a shiny new online tool that allows the user to see how youth were exposed to alcohol advertising via the radio in 2009.  You can pick from 75 different radio markets across the United States, and then choose whether to single out a specific beverage type (like alcopop or beer) or look at total advertising of all alcohol products.  Check out the tool for yourself and see what you think.  Wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of data here in Canada?

Labelling alcohol … would it make a difference?

Here’s a question: should alcoholic beverages carry labelling detailing the health effects of its consumption?

Nutrition labelling requirements were put into effect a number of years ago in Canada. Every food and beverage item for sale must contain a detailed list of ingredients, as well as nutrients like sodium, fat and sugar. We can make our choices based on the label. Tobacco, by law, also must contain label warnings on the package about the health effects. 

What if a bottle of wine stated the low-risk drinking guidelines right on the container? What if it announced that your risk of cancer goes up the more alcohol you consume? Would people use this to make educated choices about their consumption? Would it make a difference to you?

The way we were (drinking when pregnant)

Mad MenMad Men
One of my guilt-free pleasures when I’m on vacation is watching television shows that I usually don’t have time for. The one show that I recently watched that sticks in my mind is Mad Men, which follows the lives of the men and women of a Madison Avenue advertising firm. The show is completely addictive and not just because of the drama. The era itself is fascinating ….the fashion, the changing of society as it moves through the 60s, the sexism, the smoking and the drinking. When I saw Don Draper’s wife, Betty, smoking and drinking wine when quite obviously pregnant, I was stunned for a minute. But that’s the way it was. How things change. People don’t smoke like they used to and we now know that there really is no safe use of alcohol during pregnancy.