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One Drink Too Many Can Kill. France’s Strong New Anti-Alcohol Campaign

French authorities try to step up their campaign against alcohol. The result may create more confusion than concern.

An image from the new spot warning against drinking too much. (French Health Ministry)
An image from the new spot warning against drinking too much. (French Health Ministry)
Sandrine Blanchard

PARIS - "Drinking a little bit too much every day puts your life in danger." It must not have been easy for the French Health Ministry to come up with this message for its new national campaign against alcohol. Just imagine all the endless brainstorming it took for officials to find the perfect words to use. I mean, one does not just stumble on phrases such as "un peu trop"! Between drinking "moderately" and drinking "to excess', there is now this new level of drinking a "bit too much". It is not the same as "drinking a lot" or "drinking regularly," but rather drinking... too often ... but without really being aware of it... and without being an alcoholic either. Make sense?

In the health ministry's TV ad, this new category of "moderate excess' is illustrated by a jovial 40-something who indulges himself with a glass of wine over lunch, with a beer right after work in the company of his colleagues, and capped off with a small whiskey at home in the evening, just to unwind. That makes a total of three glasses. But how many glasses of alcohol are too many? One? Two? None maybe, provided that the scenario does not repeat itself "every day"?

The right answer to this question is probably anyone's guess. There is no indication, in the man's behavior, that the three glasses he has allowed himself make him unhappy. And yet, an increasingly loud tick-tock soundtrack indicates that in his case, time is slipping away: he is putting his life in danger. This is a rather strong choice of words, stronger than, say, "he is taking risks with his health."

The bottom line is that hundreds of thousands of men and women, the TV ad suggests, could be potential alcoholics, without them even knowing it. Alcohol could have become just a little too important in these people's lives, without creating a real addiction. The so-called "regular drinkers' who look at a glass of something alcoholic and see a moment of relaxation are apparently not aware of the harm they are doing to themselves. Yes, I know, this is all pretty depressing.

It may well be they are all convinced that they are "drinking moderately," as purposely ambiguous health messages have long recommend. But they may also be a little bit confused about the alleged benefits and dangers of alcohol. There has been no shortage, these last years, of scientific studies trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some have told us that a moderate consumption of alcohol could reduce the risk of death from heart disease: one or two drinks per day for a man should suffice to fulfill that purpose. Two or three drinks a day, some might say, where's the difference? But we are also told that even one glass of alcohol per day could be a glass too many, raising cancer risks.

Young people drink too much, the middle-aged drink too much too…and what about retired people? When will a national campaign warn them about the risks of drinking? After all, 30.8 percent of them are said to drink too much alcohol, as compared to only1.5 percent of high school and college students and 11 percent of working people. Are retired people giving a bad example? Not everyone will be toasting my words...

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Coronavirus

Why Making COVID Predictions Is Actually Getting Harder

We know more about COVID than ever before, but that doesn't make it easier to predict what will happen this year. It also remains to be seen if we'll put the lessons we learned into practice.

​A young boy who arrived on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong wears a face mask and face shield at Vancouver International Airport in Canada on Jan. 10, 2023.

A young boy who arrived from Hong Kong wears a face mask and face shield at Vancouver International Airport in Canada on Jan. 10, 2023.

Duncan Robertson

In 2020, we knew very little about the novel virus that was to become known as COVID-19. Now, as we enter 2023, a search of Google Scholar produces around five million results containing the term.

So how will the pandemic be felt in 2023? This question is in some ways impossible to answer, given a number of unknowns. In early 2020, the scientific community was focused on determining key parameters that could be used to make projections as to the severity and extent of the spread of the virus. Now, the complex interplay of COVID variants, vaccination and natural immunity makes that process far more difficult and less predictable.

But this doesn’t mean there’s room for complacency. The proportion of people estimated to be infected has varied over time, but this figure has not fallen below 1.25% (or one in 80 people) in England for the entirety of 2022. COVID is very much still with us, and people are being infected time and time again.

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