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Study reveals alcohol industry tactics to influence alcohol policy reform in Scotland

Posted on 24 April 2013

The alcohol industry – including some supermarkets, drinks companies, and trade associations – distorted international evidence on effective alcohol control measures in an attempt to influence the Scottish Government’s public health policy to its advantage, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Researchers from the University of York and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found evidence that the alcohol industry had ignored, misrepresented and undermined scientific evidence in submissions made to the Scottish Government’s 2008 consultation, “Changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.” The consultation looked at policy proposals to introduce minimum unit pricing and end promotions such as below-cost selling of alcoholic drinks.

Dr Chris Holden, from York’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work, said: “We found that there was little of value that alcohol companies were able to add to the evidence base. Our findings suggest that policy-makers should rethink the involvement of corporate interests in the making of public health policy.”

Our findings suggest that policy-makers should rethink the involvement of corporate interests in the making of public health policy

Dr Chris Holden

The research, funded by Alcohol Research UK, involved the study of 27 submissions made to the Scottish consultation by the alcohol industry.

The researchers found that:

  • Tesco criticised the data supporting the Scottish Government’s proposals, claiming there was “little in the way of evidence” to support the impact of price on consumption. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association heavily promoted weak evidence in their submission, citing a small community trial which lacks thorough data.
  • The Portman Group made unsubstantiated claims that the proposals could “increase the appeal of alcohol to young people by creating a ‘mystique’" and thereby "turning alcohol into a ‘forbidden fruit’”.  They also claimed that the approach taken by the Scottish Government had been “widely discredited in research studies” when in fact the opposite is true, researchers strongly support their approach as the correct one.
  • ASDA made unsubstantiated claims about the adverse effects of policy proposals, saying they believed “minimum pricing and a promotions ban will create incentives for the black market and criminals and illegal door to door sales.”

Lead author Dr Jim McCambridge, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “There is a broad consensus internationally among researchers that the most effective measures to control problems caused by alcohol are to raise the price, control availability and restrict marketing activities. However, our study shows that key players in the alcohol industry constructed doubt about this wealth of scientific evidence and instead chose to promote weak survey-based evidence as well as making unsubstantiated claims to their advantage.

“These tactics mean it is harder for governments to make evidence-based policy where industry is involved. The public interest is not served by the alcohol industry’s misinterpretation of research evidence and we must consider to what extent we should allow the health of the population to be compromised by these commercial interests.”

The researchers say their findings raise concerns over the alcohol industry’s ongoing involvement in alcohol policy-making for England and Wales. Unlike in Scotland, where submissions were available for all to see, not all submissions to the Home Office consultation on the implementation of the Government’s Alcohol Strategy will be accessible in the public domain. It is unclear whether or not minimum unit pricing will be introduced.

Notes to editors:

  • For more information on the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York visit

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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