Alcohol Use Disorders (91) The role of the alcohol industry (15) The alcohol industry controls the narrative to undermine alcohol control policies

26 February, 2024

Dear friends,

I would like to introduce another topic in relation to the role of the alcohol industry in the alcohol problem.

The alcohol industry has understood the influence of narrative and has designed a strategy to control the conversation and influence what people think about alcohol consumption. (1)

Messages about responsible consumption are a central element of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

To do this, use terms like:

- Alcoholism, problem drinking and alcohol abuse, which are non-specific terms, describe excessive and harmful consumption of alcohol and suggest that alcohol is only a problem when consumed excessively. It has been shown that there is no minimum level of alcohol consumption that is free of health risk. (2)

- Drink responsibly. In this way, it focuses the responsibility of consumption on the individual, and removes that from the alcohol industry. This approach has not been effective in controlling alcohol consumption. Advertising and other marketing strategies strongly stimulate consumption and influence adolescents (who have not yet fully developed the brain capacity for self-control) and those adults who already have a dependent relationship with consumption, and cannot control it either.

The term “responsible drinking” is strategically ambiguous, and allows for multiple interpretations, given that it is not clearly defined in relation to a particular level of alcohol consumption. (3)

- Designated driver. It is another intervention encouraged by the industry with the intention of transmitting the message that drinking too much alcohol is not a problem, as long as a driver has abstained from drinking.

Large alcohol companies systematically use the terms “harmful use of alcohol”, “abuse”, “misuse” and “excessive use” and aggressively hold the “consumer” responsible for alcohol-related problems. (4)

The term “harmful use” per se does not convey the fact that there is no safe or healthy consumption of alcohol. At first glance, it communicates the idea that there is a “harmful” and a “normal” alcohol consumption.

This term does not illustrate that the primary cause of the global alcohol burden is the products and practices of the alcohol industry, but rather intuitively appears to focus on the consumer who consumes alcohol in harmful ways.

The term “harmful use”, which is included in the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy, is questioned by some, because it is a term that is not based on evidence, and that in reality, resulted from a political commitment to ensure that approve the strategy itself.

They see it as a victory for the big alcohol lobby in adopting the WHO's Global Alcohol Strategy, because they argue that the term is a key strategy for promoting ambiguity about the alcohol harms and related regulatory solutions. (4)

Big alcohol is trying to delay and derail a comprehensive understanding of the alcohol harms (health, social, economic and developmental) and in doing so question the effectiveness of the Best Buys in alcohol control policies, which are also elements key to the strategy.

The goal is to distract attention away from scientifically proven, cost-effective, high-impact policy solutions aimed at regulating the alcohol industry.

The power of industry interference to hinder evidence-based policies in alcohol regulation should not be underestimated.






Dr. Eduardo Bianco

Director, Addiction Training Program for Health Professionals (ATHP)



HIFA profile: Eduardo Bianco is a medical doctor and Cardiologist, Certified Tobacco Cessation Expert with a Masters in Prevention and Treatment of Addictive Disorders. Currently, he is Chair of the World Heart Federation Tobacco Expert Group. Dr. Biancos research examines tobacco control and cessation, and he is a prominent member of several organizations that address tobacco control in Latin America. Dr. Bianco has worked for 25 years in Uruguay and Latin America to promote and train in smoking cessation treatment and tobacco control policies. He is also the former Regional Coordinator for the Americas of the Framework Convention Alliance and former Technical Director of the MOH Center for International Cooperation for Tobacco.