Jolyon Attwooll, newsGP, 24-05-2023
New research looking at alcohol industry contributions to inform national strategy has found numerous ways science is misrepresented.
Evidence was ‘systematically manipulated, misused and ignored’ in submissions made by the alcohol industry to inform Federal Government health strategy, a new study has concluded.
Research published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal this week raises concerns surrounding the reliability of evidence used in documents designed to shape public policy.
The authors looked at 12 submissions filed by the alcohol industry as part of a consultation process for the National Alcohol Strategy 2019–2028. They identified a number of industry assertions that used shaky evidence, including to exaggerate the benefits of moderate drinking and downplay the link between alcohol and violence.
Researchers also said the industry used questionable approaches to push for targeted initiatives rather than population level alcohol policies, as well as to oppose strong advertising regulation and minimum unit price and taxation policies. ‘The alcohol industry is misusing evidence in their submissions to government consultations to make their assertions about alcohol policy,’ the authors wrote.
‘It is therefore essential that industry submissions are scrutinised and not accepted on face value.’
They suggest that the submissions considered for the work are likely to be ‘only a fraction of the total influence the alcohol industry has in public policy processes’.
Dr Hester Wilson, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine, said the findings should not come as a surprise. ‘It reminds me of the tale about the scorpion and the frog crossing the river – you cannot expect a scorpion to act against its nature,’ Dr Wilson told newsGP.
‘The alcohol industry exists to make money from alcohol, this is what they do. And they are wealthy and as a result have power to influence and will use this to maximise their income. ‘We allow them to control the narrative of alcohol related harm at our peril.’