Alcohol industry arguments for putting profit before health in the midst of a pandemic: The Western Australian experience
In an effort to limit the impact of alcohol on the Western Australian (WA) health system during the coronavirus disease (COVID‐19) pandemic, the WA Government introduced temporary restrictions on takeaway alcohol purchases for several weeks in March and April 2020. In response, alcohol industry representatives encouraged the WA Government to remove the restrictions and replace them with a voluntary alcohol industry initiative. The researchers looked at alcohol industry representatives’ comments in media and online publications during this period.
The researchers found that the industry framed alcohol as an essential product, focused on the impact of the restrictions on WA businesses and framed the restrictions as complex and ineffective. The themes and arguments the researchers identified are commonly used by the alcohol industry and are not unique to the pandemic. The alcohol industry’s response to the COVID‐19 restrictions in Australia provides a unique case study of how the alcohol industry attempts to interfere in public health policy.
The coronavirus disease (COVID‐19) pandemic has raised the profile of public health prevention and catapulted health to be one of the key priorities in our everyday lives. Not surprisingly, alcohol has been a topic of significant interest during the pandemic. Around the world and in Australia, governments have acted to either help the alcohol industry through the pandemic or to help deal with the strain that alcohol use places on health and law enforcement services.
Given the increased focus of the world on public health and the impacts of COVID‐19 on the alcohol industry, the pandemic provides a good opportunity to consider alcohol industry activities and arguments to influence public health measures.
Alcohol Industry Response to Takeaway Alcohol Restrictions
- Framing alcohol as an essential product
- Framing alcohol as having a positive effect on society and the economy, as being part of everyday life and as good for health;
- Focusing solely on the impact of “restrictions” on WA businesses
- Framing WA restrictions as complex and ineffective
- Lobbying for self-regulation and reframing policy issue
- A voluntary initiative was introduced by Big Alcohol to forestall any government intervention in other jurisdictions in Australia;
- Noteworthy: WA Government restrictions and the alcohol industry voluntary initiative had differing aims; while the WA Government restrictions recognised alcohol as a preventable health burden and aimed to reduce its impact on the health system, Big Alcohol’s voluntary initiative aimed to prevent stockpiling of alcohol, which framed the issue of concern as being about panic buying, rather than the health system burden;
- Criticizing public health measures as being “ineffective” or “too strict” despite evidence of their effectiveness.