Five per cent of nothing

'Acohol kills'; 'Finally the myths about positive alcohol use can be buried'; 'The drinks business is finished'. These headlines, which appeared two weeks ago in the international media, referred to the results of a mega-study about the effects of alcohol. There were 600,000 participants in 19 countries. Accustomed as we are to many similar nanny-state studies, what is so different about this particular one? Quite simply that it is the largest of its kind in history. The conclusions that emerged are apocalyptic for anyone who makes a habit of drinking even small quantities of wine.

Firstly, the present government - any government - guidelines are far too generous and need to be revised downwards. Secondly, drinking wine, even that daily glass that is supposed to be good for the heart, is dangerous, even in minimal amounts.

The conclusions announced by Dr Angela Wood, of Cambridge University, published in the highly reputable The Lancet, cannot be ignored by anyone who enjoys a tipple or three. A male person consuming more than five glasses of wine a week (women less than five glasses) runs the risk of dying prematurely. Three glasses daily will cut a 40-year-old's life by two years, or in percentage terms 5% of their remaining span. Put another way, every glass of wine is equivalent to 15 minutes of life, roughly the same as a cigarette is calculated to be worth.

However, before giving up alcohol for ever, think for a moment about the bottom-line implications of the study. What its conclusions are really telling us, according to its authors, is that the price we have to pay for continuing to enjoy wine is to give up a few years of life from those that remain to us. How many remain to us? Do you know? Do the authors of the study know? Does anyone know? So what it comes down to is that from the unspecified and impossible-to-estimate number of years we have left, an indeterminate number may be forfeit if we do not cut right back on the demon drink. Or, as they say in broker-speak, 'Five per cent of nothing is nothing'.