Big Alcohol Misleads Public On Their Products’ Cancer Risks
Stockholm, Sweden, September 8, 2017 – A brand new study presents evidence illustrating that the alcohol industry is misleading the public over their products’ cancer risks.
The new study shows that the alcohol industry and their front groups are working to misrepresent scientific evidence about alcohol-related cancer risks. The tactics Big Alcohol uses to do so are very similar to those of the tobacco industry, according to new research published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
The scientific community knows about alcohol’s carcinogenic effects since the 1980s,” says Kristina Sperkova, International President of IOGT International.
And yet, both the broader public and political decision-makers are largely unaware of the link between alcohol use and cancer.
This study helps shed some light on why that is still the case.”
The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s special cancer research body, classifies alcohol as category one carcinogen since 1988, like asbestos and tobacco. The IARC estimates that alcohol is the cause of 8% of all cases of cancer. After tobacco (18%), alcohol is the second biggest cause of cancer.
Nevertheless, awareness of alcohol’s cancer risk is very low among the public. For example in Europe, only 1 in 10 people know about the connection, and only 1 in 5 do believe there is a connection between cancer and alcohol. In the United States, fewer than four in ten Americans realize alcohol can cause cancer, even as the evidence about alcohol as a cause of cancer has grown. The low awareness is especially concerning given that it has dipped over the past 16 years, from 42% in 2001 to 39% in 2016.
We know that people’s support for effective alcohol policy measures increases, the more they are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer,” explains Kristina Sperkova.
So, Big Alcohol has many reasons to keep us all in the blind and in doing so protect not only the image of their products but also their largely under-regulated status and their profits.”
Omission, distortion, distraction – Big Alcohol’s cancer strategy exposed
Led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine with the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, the new study analyzed information disseminated by 27 Big Alcohol-funded organizations and similar bodies. The researchers aimed to determine the extent to which the alcohol industry fully and accurately communicates the scientific evidence on alcohol and cancer to consumers.
Most of the organizational websites (24/26) showed some sort of distortion or misrepresentation of the evidence about alcohol-related cancer risk, with breast and colorectal cancers being the most common focus of misrepresentation.
The study identifies three main industry strategies.
- Denying, or disputing any link with cancer, or selective omission of the relationship,
- Distortion: mentioning some risk of cancer, but misrepresenting or obfuscating the nature or size of that risk and
- Distraction: focusing discussion away from the independent effects of alcohol on common cancers.
According to the researchers one of the most important findings is that Big Alcohol materials appear to specifically omit or misrepresent the evidence on breast and colorectal cancer. One possible reason is that these are among the most common cancers.
Alcohol industry big guns all implicated
The alcohol industry front groups that were analyzed make up a who is who of Big Alcohol worldwide, including the IARD, spiritsEurope, Brewers of Europe, DISCUS, Drinkaware, Drinkwise, Portman Group, Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibly, Wine in Moderation, and ARA. And the study analyzed information provided by some of the world’s biggest alcohol producers, including Pernod Ricard, Heineken, Diageo, Brown-Forman, SABMiller, Carlsberg, Bacardi, Asahi, Kirin, MolsonCoors, Beam Suntory and Jacob’s Creek.
A hostile attitude to independent scientific findings is obviously an industry-wide problem,” says Kristina Sperkova.
If it was at all needed, this study is the final nail in the coffin of Big Alcohol myths about their responsibility and sincere concern about their products’ harms.
What this new study exposes, is an industry that consistently and around the world deliberately makes unethical and deeply cynical choices ruthlessly pursuing profits.”
No ordinary commodity and not an ordinary industry
The new study should ring alarm bells in governments, health agencies, NGOs, media outlets and universities around the world about the alcohol industry. The researchers say policy-makers and public health bodies should reconsider their relationships.
Furthermore, the results of the study suggest that the alcohol industry should have no role to play in either conveying health information to people around the world or in alcohol policy making.
Additionally, the study shows that Big Alcohol corporations may be misleading their shareholders about the risks of their products, potentially leaving the industry open to litigation in some countries.
Notes to the editors:
IOGT International is the premier global network for evidence-based policy solutions and community-based interventions to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm.
The study can be accessed here:
Study: Alcohol and cancer awareness and support for alcohol policy
Buykx P, Li J, Gavens L, Lovatt M, Gomes de Matos E, Holmes J, Hooper L & Meier P (2016) An examination of public attitudes towards alcohol policy. University of Sheffield and Cancer Research UK.