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Don’t Smoke! Don’t Drink! Eat Your Broccoli!

By Charles Olken

I am actually rather fond of my doctor despite the fact that he does not smoke, rides his bike to work, always asks me if I had the fois gras when I return from France and insists that I eat my broccoli. It could be worse, of course. He could also tell me not to drink, but he does not. In fact, a very large secret to our friendship these last two decades is that he is a wine drinker.

To be sure, he is one of the first to admit that drinking to excess is not in anyone’s interest. Recently, another doctor, one who calls himself a “medical ethicist”, has strongly urged that alcohol be subject to the same stringent controls that have been applied to tobacco. This is not the first time that a member of the medical profession has taken out after alcohol as if it truly were “demon rum”.

At first, this medical ethicist tried to toss a bone to wine drinkers by declaring that wine can be good for one’s health, but then he took it away by saying that the studies to date are flawed. Apparently he has never heard of the Mediterranean diet. I know I have. I had pasta for dinner tonight.

Jocularity aside, I also had a glass of Barbera, my new favorite discovery, with my pasta, and I am sure that the wine not only did me no harm but that it may have done me some good. No need to repeat all the studies and claims about moderate consumption of red wine. I believe them. My doctor believes them. To hell with the medical ethicist who looks at a glass of wine and sees a pack of cigarettes.

Here is the problem. Even if one were to discount some of the health benefits of moderate consumption, there is still this one salient fact that escapes those who would equate cigarettes with wine. Tobacco smoking kills people. It negatively affects everyone who smokes. There is no such thing as moderate smoking. And tobacco smoke not only impacts those who smoke but also those who are in proximity to those who smoke.

That is why smoking has been banned in planes, offices, bars, places where people congregate. If you want to smoke in airport, you can go to the smoking room, where there is so much second-hand smoke that one gets one’s fill just by inhaling. Try inhaling the air in the room where moderate wine consumption is taking place. If you get a buzz from that, you are a medical marvel.

Immoderate consumption is a problem. No argument there, but one need look to the French experience where wine consumption has been cut substantially through education programs to see that stringent bans and hiding the bottles in the back room are simply not the answers. Our medical ethicist, sitting in his ivory tower over in England, has missed that point. We need to be vigilant to the dangers of excess. For cigarettes, one is excess. Even our medical ethicist, when put to the test, would admit that a glass of wine does not constitute excess. He grudgingly admits that he imbibes as well.


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