The influence of the alcohol industry in the health sector should be supervised just as heavily as the activities of the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries. Because, just as in those two sectors, there are questions like alcohol industry driven research, unsubstantiated health claims and the inappropriate use of promotion and marketing. To substantiate stricter levels of regulation it is of crucial importance to target more research and attention to the activities of the alcohol industry. That is the conclusion of an editorial in the journal PLoS Medicine, a publication of the American Public Library of Science (PLoS). 

According to the authors of the editorial, attention to the activities of the alcohol industry is currently severely lacking: ‘…The evidence and critical voices highlighting the practices of the alcohol industry—a massive and growing US$150 billion global business—have not yet received adequate prominence in medical journals. Indeed, attention to and scientific research on the alcohol industry have not kept pace with the industry’s ability to grow and evolve its markets and influence in the health arena.’

As a reason for the relative scholarly disinterest in the alcohol industry the editorial states: ‘…the enduring perception that drinking is normal, fun, and healthy, and that the damage caused by alcohol affects only a small group of people who can’t handle their booze.’ However, reality is less rosy: ‘The Global Burden of Disease study places alcohol-related morbidity second only to tobacco in the developed world, teenage drinking problems have been shown to have long term effects on individuals and communities, and a recent European-wide study found that 10% of cancers in men and 3% in women were linked to alcohol consumption.

The editorial also refers to a number of recent instances where the alcohol industry has influenced government policy. One example is the recent drafting of the UK’s new health policy. Because the government was too close with alcohol producers and the proposed parameters of the legislation were far too soft major health organizations including the British Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians, and several alcohol control charities had to withdraw from the negotiations.

Also discussed is the influence that alcohol producers try to have over academics: ‘…to result in messages that obscure public perceptions of the true benefits and harms of alcohol and to support the industry’s PR agenda, while also supplying industry with the opportunity to “demonstrate corporate responsibility in its attempts to avoid taxation and regulation”.’

Another troubling reality that underlines the importance of scrutinizing the activities of the alcohol industry is the way that they try to circumvent regulations to protect young people against their marketing, say the editors of PloS Medicine.

You can read the full editorial here.

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