Introduction by Croakey: According to a guidance note recently published by the World Heart Federation.
The brief indicates that the alcohol industries misleadingly promote their products under the labels of “healthy” and “safe”, and present alcohol in print and electronic media as necessary for a vibrant social life, hijacking the beware of the harm it causes.
While the World Health Organization has called for a relative reduction of 10% in global per capita alcohol consumption between 2013 and 2030, a lack of investment in proven alcohol control strategies and the persistence misinformation and industry interference have hampered public health efforts, according to the brief.
Meanwhile, Caterina Giorgi, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), writes below that there are good reasons to exclude alcohol industry lobbyists policy and program development in Australia and overseas.
Caterina Giorgi writes:
For decades, community members, charities and researchers have called for evidence-based measures to reduce the many harms caused by alcohol. But, as our organisation’s first president, Professor Ian Webster AO, recently wrote to Croakey, liquor companies and lobbyists have a long history of working to undermine these policies.
We are now seeing these tactics deployed globally, with alcohol lobbyists working to influence the World Health Organization (WHO) process to establish an action plan for Global Alcohol Strategy. The action plan is being developed after recognizing that there has not been enough progress against the strategy in the more than ten years since its release.
To inform the action plan, a discussion paper was developed and consultations took place. Liquor companies and their lobby groups were among the organizations consulted. They made almost a quarter of all submissions (60).
Analysis of these submissions made by the Alcohol Policy Research Center (CAPR) from La Trobe University found that 90% of these submissions argued for greater involvement in the development of alcohol policies and 81% proposed that they should set their own rules and standards through the through self-regulation and co-regulation.
On policy, there was strong opposition to the measures described as SAFER initiatives , the five most cost-effective policy areas for reducing alcohol-related harm. Sixty percent of industry submissions resisted advertising restrictions, 52% resisted price and tax regulations, and 46% resisted measures regulating alcohol availability.
It is not surprising that these lobbyists reject the most effective policies to reduce alcohol harm; only about a third (17) of their submissions referred to specific evidence to support their arguments and of these, ten evidence was misinterpreted and nine promoted weak evidence.
The WHO recently published the third draft action plan.
A FARE analysis of the action plan identified three areas where the plan has been weakened, including changes to a global target to reduce overall alcohol consumption to now focus only on ‘harmful’ alcohol consumption, a reduced focus on SAFER initiatives and the inclusion of increased opportunities for alcohol companies to set their own rules and standards for advertising, marketing and labeling.
Implications for policy making
Alcohol lobbyists have a history of stopping, delaying or attempting to water down alcohol policies in Australia.
They delayed the introduction of Pregnancy-related health warnings in Australia and New Zealand for 20 years. This policy is designed to prevent children from being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a permanent disability.
They first questioned the evidence supporting the measure by casting as much doubt as possible. They then introduced their own voluntary labeling system, which repeatedly proved ineffective. When mandatory labeling was imminent, they fought against it. Then, when pregnancy health warnings became mandatory, they strove to make them nearly invisible, battling color and size requirements.
Now that disclaimers are now mandatory and standards specify their size and color requirements, these lobbyists are now trying to dismantle the independent agency which advises on labels and monitors their implementation. These companies continue to push for changes that weaken the agency’s mandate and limit its powers as an independent public health organization.
They are relentless.
When the independent health agency – the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) was developing the revised version Alcohol Guidelines – these lobbyists even tried to water it down. These guidelines are designed to provide advice to Australians on ways to reduce their risk of many harms from alcohol.
They have spent years trying to influence how the guidelines are formulated, questioning the science behind it, and even trying to discredit the appointees to the advisory group who developed the guidelines.
What can we do?
There are now far too many concrete examples of alcohol lobbyists working to stop, delay or water down important health and social policies for us to ignore.
Health policy cannot be effective if it is made or influenced by the companies that profit most from the failure of these same policies. Alcohol companies and their lobbyists have shown time and time again that they will put profits ahead of the health and well-being of families and communities.
For the rest of us, the most important thing is the health and well-being of our children, our families and our communities. That’s why it’s important for all of us to do everything we can to prevent serious harm from alcoholic products.
The only way to ensure that policies put the health of our children, families and communities first is to ensure that alcohol lobbyists are excluded from policy and program development in Australia and abroad.
See Croakey’s Alcohol and Public Health Articles Archive.