Will France give up wine for January? The country’s president reportedly insists "Non." Emmanuel Macron’s declaration provoked a collective sigh of relief from vintners and grumbling from champions of the “Dry January” concept. What’s been forgotten in the political tussle is the continuing debate over whether going sober for a month has lasting health benefits.
The concept of taking a month off from alcohol has been around for at least a decade. A nonprofit named Alcohol Change UK began an organized campaign around the idea of Dry January in 2013 and trademarked the concept a year later. In 2015, the national agency Public Health England partnered with the nonprofit. The idea has since gained steam in the U.K., which has experienced high levels of binge drinking in recent decades and where public health authorities have controversially claimed alcohol offers no health benefits.
Earlier this month, media in France reported that its national health agency, Santé Publique France, was planning its own “Janvier Sec.” In a nation where many people see wine as a part of national heritage and culture, the news brought mixed responses.
The wine industry was particularly unhappy. “The wine industry has been promoting for years a message of moderation, education in the art of French living and wine culture,” said co-presidents of the National Association of Elected Officials of the Vine and Wine Nathalie Delattre and Philippe Huppe, in a statement. “Despite this work, the government seems to favor the promotion of total abstinence with regard to the consumption of alcohol and therefore of wine.”
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Christophe Château, communications director for the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB), told French media, “It’s as though you tell drivers to go [30 miles] an hour for one month of the year and as fast as they like the rest of the time. We fight binge-drinking and total abstinence and call for responsible drinking all year long.”
Macron, 41, has praised drinking a glass of wine with lunch or dinner, so many wondered what his response would be. On Nov. 14, he met Champagne growers for lunch in Epernay. Afterward, Maxime Toubart, president of the General Union of Champagne Growers, told reporters, “The President of the Republic told us that there will be no Dry January."
Dry January supporters were quick to claim the president had sided with wine industry lobbyists over public health.
But the jury is still out on the health benefits of going booze-free. One study did find that participants reported better sleep, better skin, more energy and a clearer mind. And health experts have routinely said that giving your body a break from alcohol is good for your health.
But several have cautioned that many people who give up alcohol for a month end up drinking more when the 30 days is up. Some argue that it’s better to make more fundamental changes to drinking habits, forgoing alcohol a few nights a week or reducing the amount you drink when you do drink.
Those changes may also be easier to stick to. Last year, Alcohol Change UK announced that an extra 1.1 million people planned to give up drinking for January. But U.K. sales figures showed alcohol sales increased 10 percent that month.