Authors: N. Maani Hessari & M. Petticrew
Title: What does the alcohol industry mean by ‘Responsible drinking’? A comparative analysis
Journal: J Public Health (Oxf) 1-8, 7 April 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdx040
Background: The alcohol industry uses responsible drinking messaging as a central element of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. It has been argued that such messaging is vague, and potentially part of broader CSR activities to protect industry interests at the expense of public health. This study aimed to identify how industry defines responsible drinking, and in what contexts it is used.
Methods: This was a qualitative documentary analysis of publicly available documents and web pages, including company web pages, press releases, reports and blogs from a representative selection of alcohol producers, and industry social aspect/public relations organizations; these were compared to health NGOs and Public Health England. All materials were coded iteratively using NVivo, and results were analysed using the hermeneutic approach.
Results: The term ‘responsible drinking’ was used almost exclusively by industry or industry-funded organizations. ‘Responsible drinking’ was not clearly defined with relation to any particular level of alcohol consumption, and government alcohol guidelines were rarely referenced.
Conclusion: Responsible drinking is a strategically ambiguous, industry-affiliated term that allows for multiple interpretations. Industry sources rarely reference government drinking guidelines in the context of responsible drinking, stressing individual responsibility and risk management. Public health practitioners should be aware of these distinctions, and use clear language regarding lower risk drinking.