A new study has revealed how the alcohol industry is using its Australian Drinkwise organization to create an impression of social responsibility while promoting measures for which there is little evidence of impact and are unlikely to hurt profits.

A research team from Deakin University’s School of Psychology examined submissions to the Australian National Preventative Health Taskforce (NPHT) to determine which organizations or individuals discussed positive relationships or work by Drinkwise. They found that all the submissions mentioning Drinkwise were submitted by the alcohol industry or its affiliates as evidence of their social responsibility or in recommending actions that are likely to benefit their bottom line.

‘It is clear from our study that Drinkwise is being used by the alcohol industry for its own benefit,’ said lead researcher on the project, Dr Peter Miller. ‘Drinkwise is being used to create an impression of social responsibility while promoting interventions that will do very little to impact on profits and failing to press for measures known to be effective, such as higher taxes on alcohol or curbs on drinks industry promotions.’

Dr Miller said the use of organizations known as SAPROs (social aspects/public relations organization) is common among industries that harm many of their users, such as tobacco and gambling, as they appear to lend credibility to the industry’s claims of social responsibility. “We conducted this study to gain a fuller understanding of the corporate political activity of the alcohol industry in Australia,” he said.

Of the 375 submissions to the NPHT, 33 primarily covered alcohol, and nine of these 33 submissions also discussed Drinkwise. Only industry submissions referred to Drinkwise. “Every industry submission referred to Drinkwise either in terms of it being evidence for social responsibility and therefore deserving credibility, or in terms of suggesting the industry-friendly actions of Drinkwise as alternatives to the NPHT recommendations in addressing the issues of problems associated with alcohol use and abuse.”

Dr Miller concludes by noting that “the recent industry push to implement soft labeling is reminiscent of tobacco industry campaigns and that in light of the findings in this study, the people to determine health information and messages should be the Government and health authorities, not the alcohol industry”.

The study, “Alcohol industry use of social aspect public relations organizations against preventative health measures”, is published early online on the Addiction website: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03499.x/abstract

Source: Addiction journal.org 07/25/11

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