Alcohol industry ‘misleads’ the public, says study

The alcohol industry engages in “false” arguments to block efforts by countries to regulate alcohol marketing, according to a systematic review of research.

The industry, it was claimed, was “misleading” the public in asserting it did not target its market at children — with the study saying there was “strong evidence to the contrary”.

Furthermore, drinks companies frequently “shift the blame” from the product, and the marketing of it, to the consumer.

The study, published in the journal Addiction, examined 17 research papers on alcohol marketing worldwide, including four in Europe, one of them in Ireland.

Responding, the Irish drinks industry said it was “committed to responsible marketing” and “strongly condemned” marketing to under-18s.

The review states: “The alcohol industry argues against marketing regulation by emphasising industry responsibility and the effectiveness of self-regulation, questioning the effectiveness of statutory regulation, and by focusing on individual responsibility.”

It says the industry primarily conveyed its arguments “through manipulating the evidence base” and by promoting “ineffective” voluntary codes.

The review says the industry adopted voluntary codes as a means of reducing political pressure for formal regulation in the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

“The alcohol industry frequently attempts to shift the blame for alcohol misuse to the consumer and away from their products and marketing,” it states

It adds that the industry argued that population-wide approaches, such as taxation or advertising restrictions, penalises moderate drinkers because of a “few” problem drinkers.

The review says there was “strong contrary evidence” to the following industry claims:

  • That self-regulation worked well;
  • That the industry only markets to those of legal age;
  • That the industry is responsible.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said its members are committed to responsible marketing. “We are already subject to some of the most stringent co-regulatory codes of practice on alcohol marketing and sponsorship anywhere in the world,” the group said.

“We welcome a statutory code of practice for advertising codes. We called for its introduction and welcome tough sanctions on those that fail to abide by these codes. We strongly condemn marketing drinks products at under-18s.”

Conor Cullen of Alcohol Action Ireland said: “Crucially, this review shows that alcohol industry arguments against public health policy are not backed by evidence, but rather, like the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry seeks to distort the evidence, argues for ineffective models of self-regulation, funds front groups that promote ‘awareness’, and place all the blame for our huge burden of alcohol harm with ‘irresponsible’ consumers.”

He said the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which contains measures to reduce children’s exposure to alcohol marketing, is now a “prime target”.

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