International Outcry Grows Over Alcohol Industry Role In Policy Making

Submitted by Andy Travis

This forthright editorial in the journal ‘Addiction’ joins over 500 public health leaders and 27 organisations in questioning the role of the global alcohol industry in making alcohol policy. Conflict with the tobacco industry is well documented, where vested interests have fought an aggressive rearguard action against efforts to reduce tobacco harm. Alcohol interests are now seen to be moving intensively into areas of policy making. Addiction’s editorial raises the strong suspicion that these moves are designed mainly to impede effective control and protect commercial interests. The WHO’s Global Strategy on the Harmful Use of Alcohol was endorsed unanimously in 2010, but in 2012 the alcohol producers issued their own strategy and claimed that the adoption of the WHO strategy, ‘…has legitimated industry’s ongoing efforts and has opened the door to the inclusion of producers as equal stakeholders’. Leading health professionals responded with dismay, arguing that the producer’s actions are weak, mostly lacking an appropriate evidence base and unlikely to reduce harm. Dr Chan, Director General of WHO, recently commented on the role of big business.

As the new publication makes clear, it is not just Big Tobacco anymore. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation, and protect themselves by using the same tactics. Research has documented these tactics well. They include front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research that confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt. Tactics also include gifts, grants, and contributions to worthy causes that cast these industries as respectable corporate citizens in the eyes of politicians and the public.

Concern has also been expressed over ‘aggressive marketing strategies’ in areas of the world with minimum alcohol and tobacco policies in place, such as many countries with emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America (see Prevention Hub link below). The ‘Addiction’ editorial highlights the marketing of alcohol to young people and promotion of products such as alcopops.



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