If people smoke less, do they drink less too? And if so, can public policies designed to reduce smoking also reduce alcohol consumption? In Tuesday’s Washington Post, reporter Christopher Ingraham discussed a Washington University School of Medicine study showing that increasing cigarette taxes leads to people drinking less alcohol.
I’m not really surprised that reducing smoking also reduces drinking. What makes the Washington University study really interesting to me, though, is the conclusion that wine purchase and consumption per capita aren’t affected. Increasing cigarette taxes meant that fewer people would smoke — and those people would also drink less beer and spirits. But not less wine.
What also struck me was the study authors’ rationale for the difference. “People who prefer wine are less likely to smoke, more educated, and more likely to have healthier lifestyle habits than those who prefer other types of alcohol.”
Back in the days when you could still smoke in bars in DC, I don’t remember seeing very many people there drinking wine. Of course this was before we had many wine bars (those that were here had mostly banned smoking anyway), and regular ol’ bars don’t usually have wine specials the way they do for draft beers and rail drinks. So the smokers were definitely drinking beer and spirits.
I haven’t seen data on what proportion of the smoking population drinks beer and spirits as opposed to wine. But it doesn’t make sense to me that wine drinkers would necessarily have “healthier lifestyle habits.” In general, people who drink a moderate amount of alcohol are healthier than those who don’t. The thinking is that the alcohol, with its anticoagulant properties, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. But there isn’t definitive evidence that one form of alcohol is more effective than another. And with the exception of studies that dose rats with the equivalent of dozens of bottles of wine per day, there is limited — although somewhat positive — evidence that wine is better for you than beer or spirits.
So I took a closer look at the study. This is the first time I’ve read a study that focuses on drinking habits in general with an eye toward reducing alcoholism. It’s a pretty big body of research and one that I’ll have to look at more closely in the future. The study itself is thoughtfully done, but the Post article misuses its conclusions to forward the idea that cigarette taxes are a way of reducing alcohol consumption.
There’s one problem I see right off the bat: The study looked at the impact of cigarette taxes AND smoking bans, not just cigarette taxes. The Post article refers once to “tobacco policies,” but talks specifically about only the tax end of it, not the smoking bans. So it’s incorrect to attribute the decrease in alcohol consumption just to cigarette taxes.
And then Post article doesn’t even mention that the scope of the study was 1990 to 2009. This presents its own issues, since later developments make it questionable if the conclusions still hold. First, the economic recession, while officially over sometime in 2009, affected alcohol sales through 2009, 2010, and 2011. And then the availability and market for craft beers and spirits have soared since 2009 and could affect the data.
As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have good data on wine sales. While the authors relied on state tax and revenue data, those data wouldn’t necessarily be broken out by type of alcohol for every outlet.
Finally, I looked at what the study authors used to back up their claims of healthier lifestyles for wine drinkers. Three of the four articles cited were published in the 1990s, and one was published in 2002. I haven’t read through them, but if there’s the typical lag between available data and publication, then they’re potentially even more out of date than their publication dates would indicate. It would surprise me if the results were the same today as they were in 2002.
As the Post article states, “excessive drinking leads to about 88,000 deaths each year in the [U.S.]…[and] cigarette smoking adds another 440,000 deaths to the tally.” Looking at ways to reduce those deaths is worthwhile. But the study isn’t the tax policy tool the Post seems to think it is. And it doesn’t necessarily portray the lifestyles of alcohol drinkers accurately, either. We’ll need better data to draw conclusions about either one.
It’s the lovely time of the year when we see winter squash, cauliflower, and root vegetables making appearances at the farmers’ markets. Cy and I bought celery root last weekend. Two of them. You can find them pretty much year-round at the supermarket, but they’re milder and sweeter when they’re newly harvested. When they sit around for a while, they get a little dried out and develop a sharper flavor. Not bad, but the fresher ones are a treat. They smell like celery when you first cut them open, but they don’t really taste like celery — I think of them as a cross between a Daikon radish and jicama, with a little sweetness too.
Since we had two celery roots, I decided to make soup. I used a basic root vegetable soup recipe (it works for parsnips and turnips, too), but made a couple of additions, like scallions in addition to the onions, and a little bit of dried celery seed to give it a little celery-like flavor. Using vegetable stock makes it vegetarian, although you could use chicken stock, or even water if you have an older celery root. It makes a great fall or winter meal with salad and some warm bread.
Serve it with a flavorful white wine, like our new Vernaccia di San Gimignano, made by Azienda Agricola San Benedetto ($16). Vernaccia makes a luscious white wine, it has great citrus and some riper fruit flavors. And it smells like apricots! Since the celery root soup has a bit of acidity, they go well together. Vernaccia isn’t grown all over Tuscany, but just in the area around San Gimignano. Like vices, not all wines are created equal — so go for the best ones you can!
Serves 6 – 8
1 large or 2 small celery roots, peeled and diced large (see note)
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced large
4 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts coarsely chopped, and dark green parts reserved
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the onions and the white and light green parts of the scallions along with some salt and pepper and sauté until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, and stir in the stock and lemon juice. Then add the diced celery root and potato and the nutmeg and celery seed. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer for 40 minutes. Everything should be nice and soft.
Using an immersion blender, blend up the soup until it’s just barely not chunky anymore, but not smooth either. Stir in the milk and cream, and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Chop as many of the scallion greens up as you’d like and add them to the soup and cook for a couple of minutes to soften them. Serve the soup hot.
A note about peeling celery root — you’ll need a big, sharp knife. Cut off the peel removing as little of the white core as you can. Then cut the celery root into quarters. Many of them are hollow and have a little peel on the inside as well. You’ll want to get off as much of that as you can.