Anti-Alcohol Bureaucrats Suppress Important Health Information

by Richard Lessner

LAST MONTH yet another scientific report was released detailing the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. That’s right, the benefits of moderate drinking. But don’t expect to hear about this good news from Budweiser or Bacardi.

The Federal Trade Commission prohibits brewers, vintners and distillers from communicating to consumers any factual information regarding the health benefits of their legal products. The only health-related information the government allows sellers of alcohol products to communicate to their customers is contained on those scary warning labels about potentially negative consequences of drinking. Thus, the government ensures that consumers receive only half the information they need to make intelligent, informed decisions about drinking.

News accounts last month summarized a new study published in Archives of Internal Medicine. The study by researchers in Boston found that moderate drinking reduces the risk of heart-related deaths in men with high blood pressure. Men with high blood pressure who reported imbibing one or two drinks a day were 44 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

This is not shocking news. The health benefits of moderate drinking have been known to the medical community for some time now. Alcohol is known to be good for the heart, to increase levels of so-called good cholesterol, thin the blood, ward off artery-clogging clots, and reduce the chance of heart attack. These recent findings suggest that men who suffer from hypertension can benefit from a martini or two in the evening. Researchers suspect the same is true for women, and the kind of booze doesn’t seem to make a difference, either. Alcohol is alcohol, whether ingested as beer, wine or distilled spirits.

The nanny-state health Nazis do not want this kind of factual information to reach consumers. One hand-wringing neo-prohibitionist, pouring cold water on this good news, huffed that the Boston study sends “a very bad public-health message” about alcohol. For these types, there is no such thing as responsible, moderate drinking. It’s prohibition or nothing. These latter-day Carrie Nations will not tolerate anything good to be said of Demon Rum.

The same restrictions apply to tobacco, if anything a product even more irrationally despised by the nanny staters than liquor. There is, for example, ample clinical evidence that switching from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco can dramatically reduce one’s health risk. Yet the federal government and tobacco prohibitionist “health” groups refuse to recognize the facts, thus preventing such life-saving information from reaching consumers.

Why should the government deny consumers truthful, factual information about any product? The FTC restrictions are rooted in a wholly artificial distinction between normal speech and so-called “commercial speech.”

No such distinction appears in the Constitution, of course, but is an invention of the regulatory state and the courts. The constitutional theory is that the government can regulate and restrict commercial speech because of a compelling state interest in protecting the public health against fraud. There are two problems here: First, the framers of the Constitution made no such distinction among various kinds of speech. The whole notion of “commercial speech” would be a perfect mystery to them. Indeed, Parliament’s restrictions on colonial commercial enterprises — including speech — were one of the fundamental causes of the American Revolution. For the framers, speech was speech. Period.

Second, this is not about a government ban on advertising patently false patent medicine claims, bogus miracle drugs and fraudulent wonder cures. All sensible people want consumers protected from dangerous or fraudulent products that could endanger life and health. Instead, this is about a prohibition on truthful, factual, scientific information.

There is no public health rationale for banning the beer, wine and distilled spirits industries from giving consumers all the relevant facts about drinking, save for an irrational fear of alcohol.

Is drinking risk-free? Of course not; nothing in life is free of risk. The great World War I ace fighter pilot and race car driver Eddie Rickenbacker used to say that getting out of bed in the morning was the most dangerous thing you could do because life’s activities are filled with risk. All of life entails weighing risk against benefits. Makers and sellers of legal products should be able to give consumers all the factual information so they can make truly informed decisions.

So, have a drink tonight. It can be good for you. And when you do, lift a glass to liberty.

 

Richard Lessner is executive director of the American Conservative Union and a former editorial page editor of The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News.

*Reprinted with permission

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