herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Alcohol industry campaigns ‘normalise’ excessive drinking

Author Ann Dowsett Johnston, Cliona Saidlear of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and Lucy Rocca of soberistas.com at the conference
Author Ann Dowsett Johnston, Cliona Saidlear of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and Lucy Rocca of soberistas.com at the conference

A leading expert on alcohol harm has hit out at drinks industry-funded health campaigns saying they are compounding the normalisation of excessive drinking.

Katherine Brown, director of the London-based Institute of Alcohol Studies, said the public cannot trust such campaigns from the drinks industry.

“It gives the alcohol industry a certain level of legitimacy at the table of policy debate,” she warned.

Conflict

“There is ultimately a conflict of interest because you have an industry whose primary motive is to look after the profits of its shareholders ... versus the public health objective (of reducing alcohol consumption) that will cut its profits.”

Speaking at the Girls, Women and Alcohol conference in Dublin’s Westin Hotel yesterday, Ms Brown said a lot of drinks industry-funded campaigns focus on a “very narrow group” of problem drinkers and “exaggerate the ‘them and us’ narrative”, rather than highlighting the increased health risks faced by all drinkers.

She said such campaigns focus on the “small minority” of problem drinkers and often focus on the working class or young people binge drinking.

Ms Brown said alcohol marketing targeting women has increased in recent years and cited the example of “pink washing” whereby advertisers link alcohol to breast cancer awareness promotions to boost their brand’s standing among women.

“Alcohol, like tobacco, causes cancer. Alcohol is a group one carcinogen in the same group as asbestos and tobacco.

“But public awareness of the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer is very low. A recent UK study found that more than two-thirds of people were not aware of the link.

“Yet you have alcohol promotions linked to breast cancer ... This is a major conflict of interest,” she said.

Price

Ms Brown said price is the biggest driver of consumer behaviour and that the real price of alcohol has fallen significantly in recent years in Ireland.

“In Ireland today, a woman can reach her low-risk weekly limit for alcohol – 11 standard drinks, for example, 11 small glasses of wine – by spending just €6.30,” she said citing figures from Alcohol Action Ireland.

She also told delegates that the first drink directly marketed to women was Babycham in the 1950s.

However more recently there has been a “flurry” of new products designed specifically for women, often focusing on low-calorie content.

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