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Alcohol industry ‘responsible drinking’ messages failing to address the real issues

Alcohol industry campaigns to promote ‘responsible drinking’ have little effect, and may even be counterproductive. That’s one of the key findings of a new Alcohol Concern Cymru report to be launched on Wednesday 12 October, which has been written by researchers from Glyndŵr and Bangor Universities.

Reviewing evidence from across the world, researchers at the two north Wales universities concluded that alcohol industry health messages are often ambiguous and lack clarity over safe behaviour with regards to alcohol.  Health messages are typically found in the context of adverts that promote drinking as a positive lifestyle choice.

The report’s authors point out that drinks industry-supported statements and campaigns typically portray alcohol as a neutral product that only causes problems in the hands of irresponsible consumers, whereas the evidence suggests that alcohol is an intrinsically dangerous substance, and that alcohol marketing and distribution require careful regulation and management. 

The research team, led by Professor Rob Poole at Glyndŵr University and Dr Catherine Robinson at Bangor University, concluded that making alcohol more expensive and less easily available were the methods most likely to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm.

Glyndŵr University Professor of Mental Health, Rob Poole, said:

“There are some consistent key findings from modern international research on reducing the harm caused by alcohol. In particular, the most effective measures are increasing price and reducing availability. There is really no convincing evidence that responsible drinking campaigns have any positive impact at all.

“The alcohol industry’s conflict of interest is so marked that a number of independent health bodies, including the World Health Organisation, take the view that the industry should have no role in policy formation or health promotion with respect to alcohol.”  

Alcohol Concern Cymru Manager, Andrew Misell, said:

“There’s an obvious contradiction between the drinks industry’s claims to be working to promote sensible drinking, and their need to increase sales. If everyone in the UK drank within the recommended limits, it’s estimated that drinks industry profits would fall by 40%. It’s no wonder, then, that the industry concentrates its health promotion resources on the tactics likely to have least effect on overall consumption, and is very keen to pass responsibility for any problems on to consumers.

“Drinks companies urge us to ‘enjoy’ their products ‘responsibly’ – encouraging us to carry on drinking but with a vague idea about being ‘responsible’. Meanwhile, much of the alcohol industry has strongly opposed increasing prices and reducing availability, the two things most likely to tackle the culture of drinking to get drunk.”

Welsh Minister for Local Government and Communities, Carl Sargeant, said:

“This report demonstrates the evidence base that supports policies to control the price and availability of alcohol, and restricting its advertising and promotion to protect children and young people. I welcome these findings and look forward to continuing a successful partnership with Alcohol Concern Cymru, working to improve the lives of people in Wales.”

Publication date: 12 October 2011