Study pours cold water on ‘responsible drinking’ ads

An Irish “responsible drinking” campaign by multinational drinks group Diageo could do more harm than good, a study shows.

Researchers analysing Diageo’s ‘Stop out of Control Drinking’ campaign in Ireland fails to address key issues like minimum pricing and marketing controls.

They accused Diageo of presenting alcohol harm as a behavioural problem rather than a health issue, a tactic also employed by the tobacco industry.

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE by experts in the UK and Ireland analysed newspaper articles, media interviews, and social media activity relating to the campaign, and concluded that ‘Stop out of Control Drinking’ lacked independence from Diageo.

The campaign, launched in Ireland last year in the wake of the Government’s controversial Alcohol Bill, stated that it was designed to “change the country’s culture of drinking for the better”.

Researchers found that the campaign used vague concepts of “out of control” and “moderate” drinking, and could actually undermine rather than enhance public health

Lead author Prof Mark Petticrew, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “We were particularly concerned that the campaign emphasised the importance of public opinion about what might work, while placing little emphasis on the scientific evidence already available about solutions to alcohol- related problems.

“For example, the campaign presented education as an effective way to ‘change our culture’, though the evidence clearly shows that this has little effect.”

Dr Niamh Fitzgerald of the University of Stirling added: “The language used in the campaign appears to frame alcohol problems as the responsibility of individual drinkers rather than arising from the marketing of an addictive, carcinogenic product. This tactic has been previously used by the tobacco industry.”

Critics previously suggested that the Diageo campaign sought to undermine Ireland’s latest Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, published around the same time in February 2015. The bill, which is going through the Oireachtas, proposes to introduce a minimum price for alcohol as well as a range of restrictions on labeling, advertising, and sponsorship.

EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said yesterday that she has no objection to the bill but that court action elsewhere could have a bearing on whether or not it is legal under European law. Ten EU states have objected to the bill on the grounds that it interferes with the European single market.

The objectors, mostly big wine and beer-producing countries, argue the new law will limit access to their products.

Ms Andriukaitis was attending a seminar on alcohol policy in Brussels at which the new bill was defended by minister of state for health promotion Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy.

The public health forum on alcohol abuse took place at the Irish permanent representation to the EU in Brussels. No drinks industry representative was invited to sit on the panel, according to the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland.

Federation director Ross Mac Mathúna said: “In spite of ongoing attempts to contribute to today’s dialogue, the industry was not invited to sit on the panel and engage.”

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