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Big Alcohol Dodges Regulations by Trying to Delegitimize Science

Their lobbying techniques are not unlike those employed by Big Tobacco and sugar companies.
Photo via Flickr user Jérôme Decq

Hey, remember how shady sugar corporations lobbied scientists in the 1960s to downplay the link between sugar consumption and coronary heart disease? Or how soda companies used ads to make their product seem less harmful… kind of like Big Tobacco?

These weren't conspiracy theories or (gasp!) fake news; these were real things that happened and may have had a big influence on consumer habits. And now, we have some more disconcerting news to report about the makers of some of your other favorite treats—in this case, the liquid, intoxicating ones.

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READ MORE: The Sugar Industry Paid Scientists to Downplay Sugar's Health Risks

A new study looking at the influence of Big Alcohol in Australia found that submissions relevant to alcohol marketing regulations were a "direct lobbying tactic" of the industry, and that they have long been making claims to regulators that were "contrary to the evidence-base."

Let's not forget that Australia is the place where a 12-year-old's five-star review of Vodka Cruiser Pineapple Passion Punch qualifies as an advertisement and where programming as benign as cricket has been shown to lead children to drink alcohol.

It's also a market where people who drink more than double the daily recommended maximum are branded "super consumers" and preyed on by Big Alcohol, so it was clearly something worth investigating for the Australian National Preventive Health Agency. There's no doubt that there could be implications from the study overseas as well.

READ MORE: A New Health Lawsuit Compares Big Soda to the Tobacco Industry

Researchers said they found a five-pronged approach employed by the alcohol industry to discredit increased marketing regulation. Those main claims were that regulation "(1) is unnecessary; (2) is not backed up by sufficient evidence; (3) will lead to unintended negative consequences; and (4) faces legal barriers to implementation; underpinned by the view (5) that the industry consists of socially responsible companies working toward reducing harmful drinking."

The study also found that alcohol companies employ lobbying techniques similar to those tobacco industry, albeit it in a slightly different way. "In contrast with tobacco industry submissions on public policy, which often focused on legal and economic barriers, the Australian alcohol industry placed a heavier emphasis on notions of regulatory redundancy and insufficient evidence."

Maybe that's why smoking and drinking go so well together.