Entrepreneurs: of course! Professor of health sciences: of course not!

The Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP ; Utrecht 11-12-2023

For the first time in the Netherlands, a scientific analysis has been carried out into the way in which the interested business community influences alcohol policy(1). In concrete terms, the IVO Research Institute, commissioned by the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP, investigated the arguments of the business community for increasing the availability of alcohol. The debate on the proposal that makes it possible for alcohol to be sold and served in bookstores, clothing stores, hobby shops, hairdressers, etc. (also known as blurring) was examined. The arguments of health parties and other stakeholders have also been analyzed. The researchers used the concept of framing for their analysis. Framing is the way in which information is presented to draw attention to certain aspects of a policy discussion and make other aspects less important. It can be used by parties to steer the policy process in a direction that is favorable to them. 6 different frames in the discussions about blurring were analyzed

 Alcohol damage in the Netherlands

There are 1.9 million adults in the Netherlands with alcohol problems, more than 20,000 emergency room treatments per year, more than 8,000 alcohol deaths and more than 4,000 new cases of cancer (partly) as a result of alcohol use. The annual costs of alcohol consumption amount to 5.8 to 7.4 billion according to the RIVM (2).

 Availability of alcohol in the Netherlands

Regarding the current availability of alcohol, according to the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP, there are an estimated 70,000 places in the Netherlands where alcohol is legally sold or served, including 6,000 online points of sale. Research shows that limiting the availability of alcohol leads to a decrease in alcohol consumption and mortality risk (3). The World Health Organization (WHO) also advocates limiting availability (4).

Prof. G. Nagelhout, IVO and Maastricht University: “Should it be allowed to sell and serve alcohol in more and more places? From a health promotion perspective, this is a strange question; of course not! But this question is still asked in politics, when proposing to allow blurring with alcohol.”

 Three examples of the 6 distinct frames:

  1. Blurring offers space for entrepreneurs and for “experience” of consumers

The interested business community, the retail sector and the VVD emphasize that blurring is necessary because consumers want a better experience while shopping and because more entrepreneurs want the space to serve or sell alcohol. Some local politicians and health parties indicate that research shows that there is no support for blurring among consumers and that many citizens are actually in favor of measures that limit the availability of alcohol (5).

  1. Promoting blurring with alcohol leads to better protection of public health

Proponents of blurring point out that allowing additional locations where alcohol can be sold and served will place greater emphasis on compliance and effective enforcement of national and local alcohol laws. And that would be in the interest of public health, among other things. The health parties emphasize that there is already insufficient compliance and enforcement of the alcohol rules. Increasing the availability of alcohol also means increasing the visibility and marketing of alcohol, resulting in an increase in alcohol consumption.

  1. Alcohol must be allowed

Those who argue in favor of allowing blurring believe that alcohol is a normal product that should be able to be served in a shop or hairdresser, just like coffee, and tasted in the supermarket. They consider the fear of negative effects exaggerated. Proponents of blurring rarely talk about the harmful effects of alcohol consumption. Opponents call alcohol a risk product that is harmful to health. This perspective is shared by citizens, government and health parties.

Advice: make the influence of the business community visible

The researchers advise policymakers to make the influence of the interested business community on alcohol policy clearly visible. This research and various similar studies abroad show that in many countries there is a close, often difficult to see, bond between some politicians and the business community. One of the main goals of this collaboration is to prevent too many restrictions being imposed on entrepreneurs when selling and serving alcohol. The frame of the interested business community is that alcohol should be seen as a completely normal consumer item. This is to prevent alcohol from becoming as restricted as tobacco.


  1. Lodenstein, E. Poole, N., & Nagelhout, G. (2023). Arguments and framing in alcohol policy: an analysis of the recent debate surrounding blurring. The Hague: IVO Research Institute. See: https://ivo.nl/publicaties/argumenten-en-framing-in-alcoholbeleid-een-analyse-van-het-recente-debat-rondom-blurring/
  2. Facts-and-figures-about-alcohol—edition-July-2023_1.pdf (4.30 MB); www.stap.nl
  3. Berdzuli et al., 2020; Sanchez-Ramirez & Voaklander, 2018
  4. World Health Organization. (2023). Alcohol availability. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/initiatives/SAFER/alcohol-availability.
  5. Voogt, C., Tuithof, M. Rombouts, M. (2022). Support for policy measures to reduce damage caused by alcohol use. Trimbos-institute  

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