Responsible Drinking, Conflicts of Interest, and the Elephant in the Room: A Commentary on A Scoping Review of “Responsible Drinking” Interventions by Gray, Williams & Shaffer (2020)
In this commentary, authors Petticrew and colleagues review the paper by Gray and colleagues (2020) on “Responsible Drinking” Interventions. The reviewing authors Petticrew and colleagues find the paper by Gray and colleagues concerning, not only because of the problematic nature of the concept of “responsible drinking” which Gray and colleagues fail to mention, but also because of the misinterpretation of evidence which threatens to risk misinformation on the subject.
Among the noted misinformation in the paper are the following:
- False impression that “responsible drinking” was a public health construct that was later adopted by the alcohol industry. In truth, “responsible drinking” is a concept exclusively promoted by the industry and industry funded bodies such as their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Such initiatives only serves to i) make the industry appear as concerned about alcohol harm and at the same time place responsibility on the individual and ii) distract from effective public health measures to reduce alcohol harm which could affect industry profits such as marketing regulations, increased taxes and decreased availability.
- Presenting “responsible drinking” as a vague concept. The vagueness of how the alcohol industry defines “responsible drinking” is in fact a characteristic of the industry’s strategic ambiguity, which has been well documented.
- The claims made on effectiveness of “responsible drinking” are made based on inappropriate review methods and cherry picking of research evidence. The paper does not examine any evidence (or lack there of) of the various “responsible drinking” practices or protective behavioral strategies that the industry claims are major components of these initiatives. For example Dekker and colleagues’ (2018) longitudinal study was not included. This study found that in Australia out of 16 recommended “responsible drinking” practices only one appeared to have any effect on alcohol consumption, still with small effect sizes. Some of these recommended practices actually increased alcohol intake.