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There were two interesting news items relating to alcohol this week.

First, The Vancouver Sun reported that the BC Provincial Government is considering keying the price of alcoholic beverages to their alcohol content. The idea is that higher-alcohol drinks should cost more, to both reflect the social impact of the alcohol, and to deter heavy – or perhaps just oblivious – drinkers. A study quoted by The University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research the proposal’s advocate – showed that a group of taste testers couldn’t identify beers with higher alcohol content, although the majority of them preferred the taste of the beers that turned out to have the most alcohol.

While that worries the province’s craft brewers, who specialize in strong beer, it seems many drinkers can’t tell the difference between low-alcohol and regular-strength suds.

In a taste test comparing beers at 3.5 per cent alcohol, 4.4 per cent and 5.2 per cent, only one in four of 34 young male participants correctly identified the strongest brew, according to the centre.

However, 45 per cent correctly identified the weakest beer, and 60 per cent liked the strongest beer the best.

Opponents of the proposal include ‘craft’ brewers – microbrewers – who fear that the extra tax will render their higher-alcohol boutique beers unaffordable.

Brewer Rob Monk fears tax and markup changes to promote lower-strength beverages will come at the expense of taste and quality.

His Doc Hadfield’s Pale Ale, a low-alcohol “English session beer,” was the weak beer donated for the study last year at Victoria’s Spinnakers Brewpub. But many of his brews, including an India Pale Ale at 7.1 per cent, are well above the Canadian standard of 5.0 per cent.

“I’m not sure this is the direction we need to be going in Canada. It’s not necessarily going to deter people from drinking more,” Monk said in an interview.

“The only people this is really going to affect are smaller brewers who make premium beers that tend to have a higher alcohol content. This isn’t going to hurt Molson Coors. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be a huge jump for them to get below whatever threshold is set.”

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In other news, also from The Vancouver Sun, heavy drinking in youth tied to heart risks later. They probably aren’t drinking craft beers, but according to a study of 2800 adults, those who drink heavily in their teens and youth are more likely to face a variety of health risks (labelled ‘metabolic syndrome’) throughout their lives, regardless of their later drinking habits.

Metabolic syndrome refers to a grouping of risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes — including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, high blood sugar and high triglycerides, a type of blood fat. People who have three or more of these problems are considered to have metabolic syndrome.

Of the participants studied, the most dramatic comparison was between those who drank heavily in their youth vs. those who drank moderately throughout their lives.

The study included 2,818 adults ages 35 to 80 who were questioned about their lifetime drinking habits and other lifestyle factors, like whether they exercised regularly or smoked.

All of the study participants had consumed alcohol regularly at some point in their lives, but Russell and her colleagues were able to identify two major lifetime “trajectories” of drinking: in one, people started drinking early in life and tended to drink heavily in their teens and young adulthood, then tapered off by middle-age; in the second, “stable” trajectory, people generally drank moderately over the years.

Compared with the stable group, the early drinkers were almost one-third more likely to have metabolic syndrome. In addition, their risk of being abdominally obese was 48 percent higher, while their odds of having low HDL cholesterol were 62 percent higher.

Resources:

Alcohol Consumption in British Columbia and Canada: A Case for Liquor Taxes that Reduce Harm – carbc.ca – .PDF format

Association of Lifetime Alcohol Drinking Trajectories with Cardiometabolic Risk – Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

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