Alcohol Industry/Public Health Policy
Research/Publications: How the alcohol industry affects public health policy
Alcohol taxes have been stagnant for years... But after the pandemic sent alcohol-related deaths soaring, activists in Oregon said higher taxes could save lives...Dr. Tim Naimi, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, labeled educational campaigns a “fig leaf” and said that treatment, while helpful, was akin to parking an ambulance beneath a cliff rather than fencing the precipice to prevent people from falling. Measures to prevent excessive drinking are less costly and more effective, he said. “If you want to talk prevention, you’ve got to talk policies.”
One way that governments can influence the price of alcohol is by taxing its producers or sellers, who pass the cost on to consumers. This is comparable to taxes on tobacco, which scores of studies show to be a powerful tool for reducing smoking. A large body of evidence shows that higher alcohol taxes are associated with less excessive drinking and lower rates of disease and injury deaths. After Illinois and Maryland raised alcohol taxes, the states reported reductions in binge drinking and car crashes involving intoxication.
Cambridge, Jim, et al. Alcohol Industry Involvement in Policymaking: A Systematic Review. Addiction. 2018 September;113(9):1571-1584. doi: 10.1111/add.14216
This study examined peer-reviewed journal reports published in the English language between 1980 and 2016 of studies of alcohol industry involvement in policymaking. Twenty reports drawn from 15 documentary and interview studies identify the pervasive influence of alcohol industry actors in policymaking. This evidence synthesis indicates that industry actors seek to influence policy in two principal ways by: (1) framing policy debates in a cogent and internally consistent manner, which excludes from policy agendas issues that are contrary to commercial interests; and (2) adopting short and long-term approaches to managing threats to commercial interests within the policy arena by building relationships with key actors using a variety of different organizational forms. This review pools findings from existing studies on the range of observed impacts on national alcohol policy decision-making throughout the world. Conclusions: Alcohol industry actors are highly strategic, rhetorically sophisticated and well organized in influencing national policymaking.
Mitchell, Gemma,PhD, et al. Alcohol Industry Involvement in the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health (MACH) Trial. Am J Public Health. 2020 April 01; 110(4): 485–488. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2019.305508
"The National Institutes of Health (NIH) stopped the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health (MACH) trial in 2018 due to institutional failings that led to the biased design of this major study...The process of soliciting research funding from corporations, which included convincing alcohol companies that the study design supported their commercial interests, was intrinsically biased. Thus, the three parties – research funding officials, researchers, and industry executives – co-produced the biased trial design. A detailed understanding of this episode will be helpful in advancing efforts to protect public health research from biases associated with corporate donations." (Dr. Kenneth J Mukamal MD, MPH, Harvard, was the Principal Investigator)
"Harvard, the hub of the clinical trial, has a long relationship with the alcoholic beverage industry. In 2015 the university accepted $3.3 million from the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, a group founded by distillers, to establish an endowed professorship in psychiatry and behavioral science. Harvard’s School of Public Health also came under fire in 2005 when a professor teamed with Anheuser-Busch to promote the health benefits of beer, and Anheuser donated $150,000 to fund scholarships for doctoral students.
One of the trial’s principal investigators, Dr. Eric Rimm of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, has acknowledged through various financial disclosures that he has been paid to speak at conferences sponsored by the alcohol industry and received reimbursement for travel expenses. He said it had been at least eight or nine years since those events, and he has no current relationship with the alcoholic beverage industry."
Federal Agency Courted Alcohol Industry to Fund Study on Benefits of Moderate Drinking New York Times March 2018 Roni Caryn Rabin
"Scientists and National Institute of Health (NIH) officials waged a concerted campaign to obtain funding from the alcohol industry for research that may enshrine alcohol as a part of a healthy diet."
It Was Supposed to Be an Unbiased Study of Drinking. They Wanted to Call It ‘Cheers.’ New York Times June 2018 Roni Caryn Rabin
"Buried in a new N.I.H. report are disturbing examples of coordination between scientists and the alcohol industry on a study that could have changed America’s drinking habits."
Foundation For Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR)* Establishes Morris E. Chafetz Professorship In Psychiatry In The Field Of Behavioral Sciences At Harvard Medical School (FAAR is "supported by nine of America’s distillers who lead with a strong commitment to responsibility"). July 2015
"Today, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) committed $3.3 million to create an endowed chair at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School. The first incumbent to the Morris E. Chafetz Professorship will be Howard J. Shaffer, Ph.D., C.A.S., presently an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Division on Addiction at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate. Jeffrey S. Flier, MD, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, added, “The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility has long been a strong supporter of the research program at Cambridge Health Alliance, particularly in the Department of Psychiatry"...
“The Chafetz family could not be more proud of the recognition this endowment brings to our father’s lifelong commitment to addressing the importance of individual decisions that are the bedrock of responsible consumption while at the same time continuing to learn and understand more about the nature of addiction,” said Adam Chafetz, one of Dr. Chafetz’s sons, on behalf of his family.
*"Building upon a longstanding history of corporate social responsibility and recognizing the power of collective action, the distilled spirits industry created The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR) in 1991 as an independent, national, not-for-profit organization. Supported by nine of America’s distillers who lead with a strong commitment to responsibility, FAAR's (Responsibility.org) distinguished National Advisory Board and our partners at the national and local level help us reach a broad audience, guiding a lifetime of conversations about alcohol responsibility across all 50 U.S. states and in our nation’s capital."
"The numbers on this page are based on contributions from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more. All donations took place during the 2019-2020 election cycle and were released by the Federal Election Commission on Monday, March 22, 2021."
All candidates: $16,850,647
Incumbents Only: $12,477,155
The Hill April 2020 Alex Gangitano
"The alcohol industry is a huge player in Washington, and its representatives say they have been working closely with governors and local leaders on how to keep the industry working despite closures due to the coronavirus.'In our industry, we have seen regulators at both the federal and state level be very open to helping brewers stay in businesses. I think beer is uniquely posed to address the consumer need at this point in time of uncertainty about a public health crisis, uncertainty about an economic crisis',McGreevy said. 'Beer in particular brings a little joy and a little normalcy to an otherwise fraught situation for people.'
"This is a perfect storm of putting people at risk. Two, three years from now, you’ll see an uptick. People are putting in place now patterns of drinking that will put them in trouble over time,” Jernigan (Dr. David Jernigan)said."
Alcohol Industry Advertising Continues to Raise Public Health Concerns
Savell, Emily, et al. How does the alcohol industry attempt to influence marketing regulations? A systematic review. Addiction. 2016 Jan; 111(1): 18–32 doi: 10.1111/add.13048
"The alcohol industry's political activity is more varied than existing models of corporate political activity suggest. The industry's opposition to marketing regulation centres on claims that the industry is responsible and that self regulation is effective. There are considerable commonalities between tobacco and alcohol industry political activity, with differences due potentially to differences in policy contexts and perceived industry legitimacy."
The ads started popping up about a decade ago on social media. Instead of selling alcohol with sex and romance, these ads had an edgier theme: Harried mothers chugging wine to cope with everyday stress. Women embracing quart-sized bottles of whiskey, and bellying up to bars to knock back vodka shots with men.
In this new strain of advertising, women’s liberation equaled heavy drinking, and alcohol researchers say it both heralded and promoted a profound cultural shift: Women in America are drinking far more, and far more frequently, than their mothers or grandmothers did, and alcohol consumption is killing them in record numbers. White women are particularly likely to drink dangerously, with more than a quarter drinking multiple times a week and the share of binge drinking up 40 percent since 1997, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal health data. In 2013, more than a million women of all races wound up in emergency rooms as a result of heavy drinking, with women in middle age most likely to suffer severe intoxication.
Mara Altman New York Times July 2021
"Alcohol has become so normalized there’s hardly a situation when a drink doesn’t feel appropriate, experts say. Now we’re marketing it to one another.
Although women still drink less than men, the gap has been narrowing. From 1999 to 2017, alcohol-related deaths among women jumped by 85 percent while alcohol use disorder -the inability to control drinking despite adverse consequences - rose by nearly 84 percent between 2002 and 2013. Liver disease is also rising among young women."
March 2021 NPR Morning Edition Yuki Noguchi
"Cases of alcoholic liver disease — which includes milder fatty liver and the permanent scarring of cirrhosis, as well as alcoholic hepatitis — are up 30% over the last year at the University of Michigan's health system, says Dr. Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist there."
"In a year packed with bad days, that easier access to alcohol has caused drinking rates—particularly among women, African Americans, and parents—to spike. And the numbers were already pretty grim. Before COVID-19, more than 25 percent of American adults admitted binge drinking, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In the first few weeks of lockdowns, alcohol sales jumped 54 percent over the previous year. A September 2020 study in JAMA Network Open found alcohol consumption was up by 14 percent compared to 2019."
"Tried-and-tested taxation policies have resulted in decreased population alcohol consumption in central and eastern Europe and could be implemented in other world regions that do not yet have effective alcohol policies."
New York Times April 2021 Nambi Ndugga and Austin Frakt
"A comparison across demographic groups over two decades offers some clues, and there has been a particular rise in misuse among women during the pandemic."
The Atlantic January 2020 Olga Khazan
"Americans would be justified in treating alcohol with the same wariness they have toward other drugs. Beyond how it tastes and feels, there’s very little good to say about the health impacts of booze. The idea that a glass or two of red wine a day is healthy is now considered dubious. At best, slight heart-health benefits are associated with moderate drinking, and most health experts say you shouldn’t start drinking for the health benefits if you don’t drink already. As one major study recently put it, “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”*
*Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for global disease burden and causes substantial health loss. We found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption, and the level of consumption that minimises health loss is zero. These results suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption."
Alcohol Use and Burden for 195 countries and Territories, 1990–2016: A Systematic Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016|Lancet Volume 392, Issue 10152, P1015-1035, September 22, 2018
Steps to Take: Education and Action
"Dr. Jernigan is best known for his action-research approach to the issue of alcohol advertising, marketing, and promotion and its influence on young people. His work has led to better advertising regulations and a clearer understanding of the evolving structure of the alcohol industry. His work is policy relevant and scientifically rigorous. Dr. Jernigan has been very active in translating research findings into policy and practice. He testifies regularly at city, state, and national levels around alcohol advertising and youth, alcohol availability, and taxation. He also trains advocates around the world using the best evidence."
May 2011 Washington Post David Jernigan and Vincent DeMarco
"Every year, numerous states try to raise their alcohol taxes, and few succeed. Efforts were made in at least 23 states in 2010; none succeeded. As a result, alcohol companies in essence get a tax cut every year. Since alcohol excise taxes are based on the volume and not the price of the drink, they do not keep up with inflation. Federal alcohol taxes have lost 40 percent of their value since 1991. When Maryland’s liquor tax was set in 1955, it was worth more than eight times what it is worth today."
August 2018 Source: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
"Increasing taxes on alcohol is one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing the harms caused by alcohol consumption, according to new research in the new issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs."
Alcohol Justice, the industry watchdog, promotes evidence-based public health policies and organizes campaigns with diverse communities and youth against alcohol and other drug industries’ harmful practices.