New report links “big alcohol” to big tobacco

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 22nd April 2009

Alcohol researchers from Curtin University in Perth believe they have discovered evidence that the alcohol sector uses a variety of strategies to distract public debate on the issue of health and alcohol and maintain the status quo.

The researchers have suggested that there is a link between the actions of the alcohol industry and “big tobacco” of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Professor Mike Daube from Curtin’s public health faculty says they have found documents, made public because of legal action against tobacco companies which were the parent companies of alcohol manufacturers, that link the strategies of alcohol companies to that of their tobacco counterparts.

“They’re desperately worried that public health people will take the same interest in alcohol as they have done in tobacco and they don’t want big booze to become a pariah in the same way as big tobacco,” he told ABC this morning. “The measures they oppose most strongly are tax increases, controls in advertising and sponsorship, health warnings, tough policing – especially on drink driving – and good, independent mass media programs on alcohol.”

The ten biggest concerns for the sector, according to Professor Daube, are:

  1. Alcohol becoming a major issue on the public health agenda;
  2. “Big booze” attracting attention like “big tobacco”;
  3. Tax increases;
  4. Controls on advertising and sponsorship;
  5. Health warnings on packaging;
  6. Tougher policing and reducing blood alcohol limits for drink drivers;
  7. Litigation;
  8. Independently run, well-funded mass media programs;
  9. Alcohol seen as causing problems for the community, rather than just in “addicted individuals”; and
  10. Raising legal drinking ages.

The assertions, published in the Australasian Medical Journal, have been disputed by the alcohol sector.

“I think there are some anti-alcohol activists who would very like to portray alcohol as the new tobacco,” Stephen Riden from the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia said. “They’ve made their careers in tobacco control.”

“The industry is, of course is saying, well, we are not tobacco. Alcohol and tobacco aren’t the same substances, they don’t have the same problems.”

Mr Riden contends that Australian manufacturers are willing and legitimate participants in the public debate about drinking.

“The Australian industry takes the debate as it comes, and we put our case. If Mike Daube and others think that that’s trying to distract away from the argument, well I’m sorry. We have a right to make legitimate arguments, which we do openly and honestly,” he concluded.

There was much made about a recent journal report linking “big food” to big tobacco, but are such comparisons fair? Everyone loves a comparison, we’ve seen it in the financial sector with analysts clambering over each other to decide which global recession was most like the one we are experiencing today. But surely the alcohol sector can’t be as deceptive as the tobacco industry of the 50s, 60s and 70s… or can it?