Alcohol industry health campaigns strengthen commercial interests

The alcohol industry’s health campaigns strengthen their own commercial interests, a new study has found. Their social responsibility schemes fail to reduce harmful alcohol use, say researchers from the University of Connecticut.

The researchers, from the US, UK, Argentina, and Brazil, wrote about their study in the BMJ (citation below). BMJ stands for the British Medical Journal.

The study examined actions by the alcohol industry worldwide. It found that ninety-seven percent of all industry actions lacked scientific support.

They also found that alcohol producers benefited from brand exposure and seemingly being able to manage risk and achieve strategic goals.

According to the alcohol industry, it can ‘do good’ with corporate campaigns. The study findings, on the other hand, suggest that the public health benefits are likely to be negligible. Eleven percent of industry actions, in fact, had the potential for doing harm.

Alcohol industry – conflict of interest

Lead author Thomas Babor said:

“The corporate social responsibility activities of alcohol producers conceal a clear conflict of interest in improving public health, as a truly effective approach to tackling alcohol harm will only hurt their bottom line.”

Prof. Babor is Head of the Department of Community Medicine and Health Care at UConn Health.

“Governments, however, have a clear duty to put public health first, and must do so without industry interference,” he added.

Alcohol Industry social responsibility schemes
In an Abstract preceding the main BMJ article, the authors concluded: “Alcohol industry CSR activities are unlikely to reduce harmful alcohol use but they do provide commercial strategic advantage while at the same time appearing to have a public health purpose.” (CSR = corporate social responsibility)

The researchers gathered and analyzed data from over 3,500 efforts by the alcohol industry to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

They based efforts according to the benefits to the industry in terms of marketing potential, impact on regulatory policy, and strategy.

They also assessed the health impact of the efforts regarding effectiveness as well as the potential for harm.

Stuy author Katherine Robaina, a researcher at UConn, said:

“The alcohol industry is increasingly positioning itself as part of the solution in reducing harmful drinking.”

“This paper shows the alcohol industry’s ‘contributions’ are not based on science, and, in fact, may be used as a form of stakeholder marketing around the globe.”

Few conformed to WHO recommendations

Apart from detecting a widespread lack of scientific rigor behind the actions, just one-quarter conformed to WHO recommendations. Specifically, the recommended WHO target areas for global action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. WHO stands for the World Health Organization.

The alcohol industry’s actions were conducted disproportionately in regions with high-income nations compared to other less affluent parts of the world. North America and Europe, for example, are regions with high-income nations.

The University of Connecticut made the following comment in a press release:

“Researchers were not able to estimate the costs to the industry of the actions to determine whether they represented significant charitable contributions or were merely activities that, in some cases, they would have been required to conduct anyway.”


“Is the alcohol industry doing well by ‘doing good’? Findings from a content analysis of the alcohol industry’s actions to reduce harmful drinking,” Thomas F Babor, Katherine Robaina, Katherine Brown2, Jonathan Noel, Mariana Cremonte, Daniela Pantani, Raquel I Peltzer, and Ilana Pinsky. BMJ (2018). ISSN: 2044-6055, Print: ISSN 2044-6055. DOI: