Health officials are embarking on a new campaign to get the French to cut back on their drinking.
The new public health guidelines in France specify a maximum of two drinks per day, and not every day. This is a bit less than Canada’s current low-risk drinking guidelines, which specify a maximum of two drinks per day for women and up to a maximum of 10 drinks per week — the same as France — but sets a higher limit of three daily drinks and 15 weekly for men.
In 2017, more than a quarter of French people drank more than the guidelines specify, according to statistics released by the ministry. Men were more likely to drink too much, with one-third of men drinking more than the recommended amount.
In an editorial published in the medical journal Alcoologie et Addictologie, various public health officials noted that eight per cent of cancers in France are linked to alcohol consumption and that 41,000 deaths in 2015 were also attributable to alcohol. This represents 11 per cent of deaths among French men and four per cent of deaths among French women.
A new television ad puts the spotlight on these long-term harms related to drinking, saying that alcohol is responsible for cancers and other serious problems — not even counting those related to impaired driving or violence attributed to alcohol.
“I think it was novel,” said Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, and a co-author of Canada’s guidelines. “I thought it was well-done in the sense that when we talk to people about excessive drinking, they always just think about injuries, accidents or alcoholism.
“People are not aware that no, you might drink to a level which you don’t find is excessive and yet put yourself at risk of dying from a number of chronic diseases.”
There’s evidence that alcohol causes seven types of cancer, including breast cancer, and only about 20 per cent of Canadians are aware of the link, she said. While people over 45 may see some benefit with regard to ischemic heart disease risk if they drink very moderately, alcohol may still put them at risk of other things.
About 84 per cent of Canadians report drinking according to the low-risk drinking guidelines for chronic effects, according to a recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
Although in her work in public health, Paradis tries to provide people with the best possible information on alcohol, ultimately the decision to drink is a personal choice, she said. “We do know that we can do things in terms of policies and regulations and the way we make alcohol available to people. That’s my job.
“But then once they’re in their homes with their bottle of wine or beer or spirits, of course it’s up to them and we just hope that based on the evidence that we’ve provided them with, they will make healthy choices.”
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France’s alcohol policy isn’t without controversy, though. In a country famous for its wine and where wine represents 58 per cent of total alcohol consumption, the beverage is often defended.
France’s agriculture minister, Didier Guillaume, made headlines in January when he claimed on a television program that wine was unique among alcohols. “I do not think that wine is an alcohol like others,” he told BFM TV. While addiction is a serious problem, he said, “I have never seen (…) a young person leaving a club at night drunk because he was drinking Côtes-du-Rhône.”
After being rebuked by his colleague the Health Minister, Guillaume revisited the topic later in the month, saying that while an alcohol molecule in wine is the same as an alcohol molecule in whiskey, wine is “a part of our heritage.”
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