Monday, November 10, 2014

Why does society accept a higher risk for alcohol than for other voluntary or involuntary risks?

Dealing with risk is a critical, complex and not always fully consistent endeavour in modern high-income societies [1],[2]. This contribution will examine the way the risks associated with alcohol are handled, restricting our examinations to mortality and health risks. We first introduce the classic separation between involuntary and voluntary risks [3]. Voluntary risk is associated with activities in which individuals participate by choice, and where they use their own value system and experience to determine if the risk of a voluntary activity is acceptable to them. Examples are to smoke, to consume alcohol or to ski. Involuntary risks are associated with activities, conditions or events to which individuals might be exposed without their consent. Examples of involuntary risks include the risks of natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, and so on), or technology-related risks such as bad air quality or contaminated water. As Starr showed in his seminal paper [3], societies tend to accept much higher risks for voluntary behaviours than for involuntary exposure. The latter risks are often dealt with by special agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency in the US or the European Environment Agency in Europe.
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