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GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH COMMUNITY ISSUES WARNING ON ALCOHOL INDUSTRY CONFLICT OF INTEREST

More than 500 public health professionals, health scientists and NGO representatives from 60 countries have signed a joint Statement of Concern about the activities of the global alcohol producers.

The Statement, sent to WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan today, raises concerns about the conflict of interest between multinational alcohol companies and public health policies designed to tackle alcohol harm.

Signatories argue that ‘unhealthy commodity industries’, such as the global alcohol producers, should have no role in the formation of national and international public health policies.

This Statement was drawn up in response to public announcements made in October 2012 by 13 of the world’s leading alcohol producers, outlining their commitments to implementing the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy.

Professor Thomas Babor, from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, USA, led the drafting of the Statement, which was written by a group of international experts under the auspices of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance. He commented:

“Based on their lack of support for effective alcohol policies, misinterpretation of the Global Strategy’s provisions, and their lobbying against effective public health measures, we believe that the alcohol industry’s inappropriate commitments must be met with a united response from global health community.”

Alcohol remains the third leading cause of death and disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease. This Statement highlights how, despite claims to be supportive of reducing harms caused by worldwide, the global alcohol producers actually pose a threat to effective alcohol policies due to their inherent conflict of interest between profits and public health.

The Statement gives examples of how drinks bodies have attempted to obstruct effective policies, such as the Scotch Whisky Association’s legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive of NGO Alcohol Focus Scotland was a member of the Statement’s drafting committee. She says:

"What we are witnessing is the global alcohol producers adopting the same tactics that the tobacco industry used for years in their efforts to prevent public health policies that could save lives. In Scotland, these tactics have included attempting to discredit the scientific evidence and producing information that is at best misleading, and at worst simply untrue.

“The signatories to this statement believe that it's time to shine a light on the activities of the global alcohol producers who put profit before the public good."

In less than a month, the Statement received endorsements from more than 500 academics, health professionals, and NGO representatives working in areas related to alcohol prevention, treatment and control.   The statement was also endorsed by 27 organizations that support prevention work. 

The Statement of Concern is available on the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance website, www.globalgapa.org.