‘Be Loud’ About the Link Between Alcohol and Cancer
Alcohol is linked to seven cancers, but public awareness of the links is low.

Alcohol is the second biggest cause of cancer after tobacco, and Movendi is mobilizing communities worldwide to publicize the link

At the WHO’s 152th Executive Board, an updated list of policy “best buys” to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs) was presented. The EB decided unanimously to adopt the updated list of cost-effective interventions in response to the lack of progress to prevent and reduce NCDs, as Health Policy Watch reported.

Higher taxes and warning labels on unhealthy food, cigarettes and alcohol, and better screening for cancers, are some of the new “best buys” to accelerate action on NCDs, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and mental health conditions.

No country is currently on track to achieve the 2030 global targets set by the World Health Assembly back in 2013, and the declaration by the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on NCDs in 2018 – including the 10% reduction of population-level alcohol use.

One major public health problem that is worsening due to the lack of implementation of the NCDs best buys is cancer. Cancer kills nearly 10 million people a year, but the risk of dying from cancer varies greatly across the world.

About 70% of these deaths are in low- and middle-income countries – and the disparity is worsening. For example, in Africa, cancer deaths are expected to more than double, reaching roughly 1.4 million deaths annually by 2040.

Make a noise

On World Cancer Day on 4 February, Movendi International launched an ambitious new campaign, “Be Loud For Change”. We are mobilizing communities around the world to make a noise about the direct link between alcohol and cancer, the low public recognition of the fact that alcohol causes seven types of cancer, and the unique opportunity for our governments to bring change through proven solutions.

Since 1988, alcohol – like tobacco and asbestos – has been scientifically proven to be a group one carcinogen. When humans consume ethanol in beer, wine, and liquor, the byproduct attacks the DNA. But the media found it difficult to report properly on the real effects of alcohol and instead helped the alcohol industry to keep people in the dark.

After tobacco, alcohol is the second biggest cause of cancer – before other risk factors such as infections, physical inactivity, or sunlight. Globally, 740,000 people get cancer due to alcohol, each year.

The alcohol industry wants to keep people in the dark about the fact that their products are as carcinogenic as cigarettes and asbestos. Research has shown that awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer is very low internationally.

Alcohol companies are afraid of people becoming aware of the fact that ethanol in beer, wine, and liquor causes at least seven types of cancer. And so they fight tooth and nail against scientific studies, warning labels on alcohol products, and other alcohol policy solutions contained in the recently updated list of NCD best buys.

 The wide support of the WHO Executive Board and growing momentum for addressing cancer risk factors, such as alcohol, mean something significant: The world is experiencing a shift in awareness about alcohol harm, driven by growing awareness that alcohol causes cancer.

And the world is experiencing a shift in perception of alcohol policy solutions. The alcohol policy best buys – raising alcohol taxes, banning alcohol advertising, limiting alcohol availability – help prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease; they help strengthen health systems; and they boost economic growth.

Alcohol taxes and warning labels

This means, our governments can do a lot to bring about change. They can develop alcohol taxation systems that effectively protect people from alcohol harm, including cancer. For example, reducing total alcohol consumption by 10% would lead to a 9% reduction in alcohol-related cancer deaths. That means ca. 57.000 fewer deaths.

Our governments can also put warning labels on alcoholic products informing about cancer, heart disease, and other alcohol harms. They can fund mass media campaigns to increase public recognition of the real harm due to alcohol. They can ban alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion. And our governments can put in place common sense limits on the presence of alcohol in our communities.

Our governments have proven solutions at their disposal. There has never been a better time for an ambitious approach to protect our societies from cancer caused by alcohol. Such an initiative will protect and improve the health and well-being of people and communities, it will strengthen our health systems as alcohol harms, such as cancer cases and deaths, decline, and will unlock fresh resources for investment in health promotion and disease prevention.


Kristina Sperkova is International President of Movendi International

Pubudu Sumanasekara is International Vice President of Movendi International

Image Credits: Taylor Brandon/ Unsplash.

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