"If You Can't Say Something Bad About Alcohol, Don't Say Anything!"

Governmental efforts to promote the belief that alcohol beverages are harmful and to censor any evidence to the contrary have continued for many decades, often under pressure from special interest groups.

For example, back in 1938, the Virginia legislature asked two University of Virginia pharmacology professors to review the research evidence and produce an overview report on alcohol's affects on the human body. The legislature had hoped to demonstrate the need for the state's public schools to teach that alcohol is a poison and that its use is harmful behavior to be avoided.

"When news leaked that the two scientists' report contained language to the effect that moderate drinking was unharmful, temperance organizations in the state immediately rallied and deluged the legislature and the governor's office with cries of objection." 1 The legislature then voted to have the report, all one-thousand copies, burned --- unread!

The legislature "protected" the public from the good news about alcohol. Even as early as 1938 there was growing evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better health and longevity than is abstention. Such medical evidence had been accumulating since the beginning of the century and over ten years earlier a major scientific study had published extensive evidence of the health beneits of drinking in moderation. 2

The National Institutes of Health much later funded a study that found moderate drinkers to be less likely to suffer heart disease, but refused to allow the Harvard researchers to publish the results because it considered them "socially undesirable." 3

It recently took Congressional action to force the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to grant any funds at all from its very large budget to investigate the health consequences of moderate alcohol consumption. Apparently, NIAAA expected that the results would be positive, so it resisted funding such research until forced to do so.

Even today, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) refuses to let alcohol producers distribute scientific medical information on health benefits associated with the moderate consumption of alcohol. It prohibits them from distributing copies of the original studies, summaries of those studies, or even to make any reference to them. They can't even say "Discuss the health consequences of drinking with your physician"! 4

The Federal motto seems to be "If you can't say something bad about alcohol, don't say anything!"

Such "protective" paternalism was undesirable in 1938 and it's undesirable now.


  • 1. Roizen, R. E. M. Jellinek and all that! A brief look back at the origins of post-repeal alcohol science in the United States. English text of an article published in Swedish in Nordiskalkohol & Narkotikatidskriff, 2000, 17, 355-366. (www.roizen.com/ron/jellinek-press.htm)
  • 2. Pearl, R. Alcohol and Longevity. New York: Knopf, 1926.
  • 3. Conflicts of interest and political science. Journal of Epidemiology, 1997, 50, 627-629.
  • 4. Ellison, C. C. Does Moderate Alcohol Consumption Prolong Life? New York: American Council on Science and Health, 1993.

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