Should the Alcohol Industry Inform Evidence-Based Health Policy?

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In a Policy Forum article published in this week’s PLOS Medicine Jim McCambridge and colleagues analyze submissions made by Alcohol Industry actors to the Scottish Government’s 2008 consultation on ‘Changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.’ The Scottish Government’s report was significant because it was the first government report within the UK to adopt a whole population approach to alcohol policy rather than considering alcohol misuse simply as an individual choice, and it included measures to introduce minimum unit pricing.

In their PLOS Medicine article Jim McCambridge and colleagues found that submissions to the Scottish Government’s consultation that were included in their case study, “ignored, misrepresented, and otherwise sought to undermine the content of the international evidence base on effective policies in order to influence policy” and they concluded “we suggest that the public interest is not served by industry actors’ involvement in the interpretation of research evidence.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Dr McCambridge noted, “What is very striking about the submissions made in this case is that the economic arguments weren’t advanced. Instead under the guise  or making a claim of supporting evidence-based policy the alcohol industry attempted to describe, in a very misleading way, what the health and socioeconomic impacts of the Scottish Government’s policies would be. This is not a legitimate contribution to public debate.” Alcohol industry representatives declined to appear on the programme.

The BBC have reported that the Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil has said, “We’ll study the report very carefully indeed. I think not just the Scottish government but the Scottish parliament will have something to say if they have been deliberately misled by anybody.”

Last year the Scottish government passed minimum unit pricing laws after a vote in May, although this has been challenged by the Scotch Whisky Association along with several European wine and spirits bodies. Plans for the introduction of minimum unit pricing within the rest of the UK appear to have recently been abandoned by the UK’s coalition government.

PLOS Medicine has taken a keen interest in the influence of commercial entities on public health policy and we’ve made it clear that the Alcohol Industry in particular deserves scrutiny, especially given the substantial impact of alcohol on human health across the globe. We look for forward to receiving and publishing more articles focused on the influence of commercial industries on public health.

Media Coverage:

BBC: Minimum pricing: Drinks industry ‘distorted evidence’ [includes audio]

BBC Radio Scotland: Drinks industry ‘behaving like tobacco sector’ says alcohol study author

The Independent: Supermarkets ‘distorted’ scientific findings on alcohol

The Times: Alcohol industry ‘distorted’ evidence, researchers claim

STV News: Alcohol industry accused of misleading consultation on minimum pricing

Articles on the Alcohol Industry in PLOS Medicine:

The PLoS Medicine Editors (2011) Let’s Be Straight Up about the Alcohol Industry. PLoS Med 8(5): e1001041

McCambridge J, Hawkins B, Holden C (2013) Industry Use of Evidence to Influence Alcohol Policy: A Case Study of Submissions to the 2008 Scottish Government Consultation. PLoS Med 10(4): e1001431

Brand DA, Saisana M, Rynn LA, Pennoni F, Lowenfels AB (2007) Comparative Analysis of Alcohol Control Policies in 30 Countries. PLoS Med 4(4): e151. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040151

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