Alcohol Use Disorders (72) What is the role of the alcohol industry? (6)

20 February, 2024

Dear Eduardo, you said: "Thank you, Neil, for this important message. But I think you have pointed out just one of the “tips of the iceberg” [the alcohol industry and breast cancer]."

Yes indeed. As you say, alcohol 'plays a causal role in a wide range of health conditions and social problems, including coronary heart disease, breast and other cancers, liver diseases, HIV/AIDS, suicide and interpersonal violence'. What do we know about the role of the alcohol industry in misleading the general public about these links?

With alcohol and breast cancer, we have seen that the 'alcohol industry aims to downplay the role of alcohol in breast cancer... it emphasises other risk factors in order to make alcohol seem unimportant... it makes what sound like a scientific and compelling statement "no causal relationship has been shown between moderate drinking and breast cancer”. This is highly misleading and is very similar to the tactics of the tobacco industry in relation to lung cancer."

A 2018 paper concludes: 'The Alcohol Industry appears to be engaged in the extensive misrepresentation of evidence about the alcohol-related risk of cancer. These activities have parallels with those of the tobacco industry. This finding is important because the industry is involved in developing alcohol policy in many countries, and in disseminating health information to the public, including schoolchildren. Policymakers, academics, public health and other practitioners should reconsider the appropriateness of their relationships to these AI bodies.'

Unfortunately the full text is behind a paywall and therefore not available to most of us. This is a micro-example of the difference in power between the alcohol industry and public health researchers. In this case, it appears likely that the public health researchers were unable to pay the author processing charge for open access, in turn limiting the dissemination of their message.

Can anyone comment on misinformation (or biased information) by the alcohol industry in relation to the role of alcohol in different diseases?

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: