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Evidence of Alcohol Industry Distortion of Science

Evidence of Alcohol Industry Distortion of Science

New research from Professor Mark Petticrew of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published today, provides evidence that alcohol companies, and the “responsible drinking” organisations that they fund, routinely deny and distort the evidence that alcohol causes cancer.

According to the authors, the industry’s “denial, distortion, distraction” tactics closely resemble those previously used by cigarette companies, and are being focused on bowel and breast cancer in particular.

Professor Jennie Connor, a medical spokesperson for Alcohol Action New Zealand, and an epidemiologist who has published research on alcohol and cancer, says:

“This new research demonstrates beyond doubt that misrepresentation of science is an organised and concerted effort of the alcohol industry, and not just incompetence, or local hostility to advocates for better alcohol policy.”

Connor has been on the receiving end of such dishonesty and disrespect from a range of alcohol industry spokespeople with regard to her own work, particularly estimating the number of premature deaths from cancer that are due to drinking in NZ, and a paper published in the leading international alcohol journal “Addiction” that addressed skepticism about the causal link between alcohol and cancer.

Professor Connor commented: “The Chief Executive of Spirits New Zealand, Robert Brewer, along with others, has provided very similar local examples of industry tactics in denying and distorting the evidence, and of confusing the public by introducing distractions”.

As AANZ spokesperson Professor Doug Sellman said the Dominion Post last year,
“Robert Brewer has responded, suggesting her latest paper was just "an opinion piece", likening her work to that of an amateur who on finding a study that shows people who wear blue jeans drive fast then concludes that blue jeans must cause road fatalities.“

Brewer’s associate, Samir Zakhari of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, also weighed in, accusing Connor of “lacking scientific credibility” and basing her conclusions on “cherry-picking epidemiological articles”. Zahkari, previously a scientist, also said in reference to Connor’s research “attributing cancer to social moderate drinking is simply incorrect and is not supported by the body of scientific literature”. He gets a special mention in the new UK study for providing misleading “scientific” support for industry claims.

Professor Connor is hopeful that this research will help politicians to understand the importance of keeping industry players out of policy-making in New Zealand.

She added,

“In June 2015, our Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman said in a television interview “I think it is actually important that we have a balanced Health Promotion Agency and that industry is represented in some form there. I disagree that we need to balance established evidence with deceit.”

Publication: Petticrew M, Hessari NM, Knai C, Weiderpass E. How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer. Drug and Alcohol Review 2017, DOI: 10.1111/dar.12596 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dar.12596/epdf


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