Faced With Breast Cancer, Reporter Confronts Big Alcohol's Biggest Lie

The breast is among the most common sites for cancer in the United States. Alcohol use is among the most common behavioral risk factors for cancer in the United States. It should be simple to draw the line between these two facts, but, as writer Stephanie Mencimer reports for Mother Jones, decades of alcohol industry deception have left most Americans only dimly aware of that fact.

Mencimer’s piece, bluntly titled “Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?”, tells a compelling tale of the author’s confrontation with her own tumor in the context of a health system that never quite got a grip on alcohol harm. She traces the complex history of the “healthy drinking” narrative, including 40 years of industry sponsored science intended to muddy the waters. She admits that she, too, bought into the wine lobby’s charming lie that red wine is good for you. As she points out, “people want to believe that a drink is good for them, and the science in this field is easy to manipulate to convince them.”

The article comes at a perfect time for the alcohol harm prevention community. As the academic community becomes embroiled in a series of corrupt practices at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Big Alcohol is frantically trying to fight off public health measures in Canada, Australia, and Europe to warn consumers that its products are carcinogenic. The latter fight is more than just token opposition from the industry. According to the 2018 Global Drugs Survey, 40% of respondents said that these cancer warnings would affect the amount they drink.

“We need every legislator and their staff to read this,” said Sara Cooley, Advocacy Manager of the California Alcohol Policy Alliance. “And every CAPA member, and potential ally. So incredibly comprehensive of our field, the issues, and the players.”

“Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?” appears in the May/June 2018 issue of Mother Jones. Mencimer has continued to cover alcohol issues for the magazine’s online channels, including the recent Lancet study that showed links between drinking and all-cause mortality, and the trap behind the language of “moderate drinking”. This shift in the media narrative is promising for Americans trying to seize control of their health—but Big Alcohol still has many other magazines in which to sell cancerous half-truths.

READ MORE about the unfolding NIAAA scandal.

READ MORE about how Big Alcohol makes bucks off of breast cancer.