Industry tactics threaten to derail European alcohol strategy

October 26, 2006

A European strategy to tackle the health impact of alcohol may be the victim of a carefully planned attack by representatives of the alcohol industry, using tactics associated with tobacco manufacturers, warns public health expert, Professor Martin McKee, in this week's BMJ.

A European Commission report, published earlier this year, showed how alcohol attributable disease, injury, and violence cost the health, welfare, employment, and criminal justice sectors £84bn (€125bn; $157bn) each year, including £40bn in lost production, while the intangible costs of suffering and lost life added a further £182bn each year.

The draft strategy that emerged is now being considered by all the commissioners and a decision on whether to adopt it is expected at the end of October.

Although it is not yet in the public domain, it is expected to include several actions, such as monitoring drinking habits among young people and ensuring that alcohol related harm is taken into account in areas such as cross border advertising, road safety, and consumer information. It also envisages support for comparative research and data collection across Europe.

Given the magnitude of the threat to health posed by hazardous drinking, some may argue that the strategy should go much further. Yet, even these modest proposals may now fail, warns McKee.

Emerging evidence indicates that some elements of the alcohol industry have been engaged in a massive and highly effective exercise to derail them.

For example, a report commissioned by the trade organisation, The Brewers of Europe, argues that there is no need for Europe wide action. It was written by the Weinberg Group, an American company previously involved in the tobacco industry's campaign to undermine evidence on the harmful effects of passive smoking.

Its content is remarkably similar to the tobacco industry reports that contended there was insufficient evidence that its products caused any harm or that preventive measures would be effective.

Now that the methods used by the tobacco industry have been exposed, few serious commentators believe what they say, writes McKee. Unfortunately, the alcohol industry seems to be going down the same path. European commissioners will miss a valuable opportunity to improve the health of their fellow citizens if they are taken in by the alcohol industry's arguments, he concludes.
Editorial: A European alcohol strategy BMJ Volume 333, pp 871-2


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