The Beverage Alcohol Industry’s Social Aspects Organizations: A Public Health Warning
Over the last 20 years the beverage alcohol industry has set up and funded social aspects organizations to manage issues that may be detrimental to its business. Social aspects organizations operate at the global level, the European level and at the country level, in high, middle and low income countries. They aim to manage issues by attempting to influence the alcohol policies of national and international governmental organizations; becoming members of relevant non-alcohol specific organizations and committees to broaden policy influence and respectability; recruiting scientists, hosting conferences and promoting high profile publications; creating social aspects organizations in emerging markets and low income countries; and preparing and promoting consensus statements and codes of practice.
Social aspects organizations hold five main viewpoints which on inspection confirm their overall aim, which is to benefit the beverage alcohol industry, rather than to benefit public health or the public good. They view that:
- Addressing patterns of alcohol use rather than volume of alcohol consumption is the best basis for alcohol policies;
- “Responsible” alcohol use can be learned and that this should be the cornerstone of alcohol policy;
- They have an equal place at the policy table, even though the evidence that they bring to the table is not impartial;
- The marketing of alcoholic beverages should be self-regulated even though the industry blatantly, consistently and extensively breaks its own codes; and
- Alcohol, despite its potential for ‘abuse’, confers a net benefit to society.
In relating to the beverage alcohol industry, Eurocare has made the following recommendations:Governments need to implement evidence based policies to reduce the harm done by alcohol, with such policies formulated by public health interests, recognizing that the viewpoints of social aspects organizations are not impartial;
- Governmental organizations should be concerned at spending public money on programs put forward by the social aspects organizations, since such programs lack evidence of effectiveness;
- A proportion of alcohol taxes, hypothecated for the purpose, should be used to fund relevant independent non-governmental organizations to implement evidence based campaigns to reduce the harm done by alcohol;
- Governments should support non-governmental organizations that are independent of the beverage alcohol industry;
- Independent non-governmental organizations that have a specific role with regard to safeguarding effective alcohol policy should inform and mobilize civil society with respect to alcohol-related problems, lobby for implementation of effective policy at government level, and expose any harmful actions of the beverage alcohol industry;
- In discharging their role, non-governmental organizations mentioned in point 5 above should remain completely independent of social aspects organizations;
- All independent scientists that are paid by or undertake work for social aspects organizations and the beverage alcohol industry should state their declarations of interest in their scientific publications;
- Research scientists in high income countries should consider their ethical responsibility not to profit from or contribute to the beverage alcohol industry’s actions in low income countries; and
- Greater vigilance and monitoring of beverage alcohol industry behaviour is needed.