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Research review: alcohol policies are undermined by increased alcohol industry influence


06.09.2022 - The alcohol industry's growing international influence is reflected in alcohol policy-making in many countries, according to a forthcoming book by an international team of researchers.


Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity is a comprehensive and global review of the harmful effects of alcohol and the effectiveness of various alcohol policies.


"The vast majority of the global alcohol industry is concentrated in a few transnational companies that are expanding their business in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The growing influence of large alcohol producers and alcohol industry organisations has undermined the willingness of public health authorities and policy makers to limit alcohol harm through effective policy interventions," says Professor Emeritus Tom Babor of the Department of Public Health at the University of Connecticut, USA.


According to Babor, the alcohol industry's aggressive marketing to consumers and society at large entices people to drink, builds brand loyalty, normalises the existence of alcohol products and justifies the industry's role in alcohol policy.


"Alcohol is not a conventional consumer product. Understanding this is only the first step to solving the serious public health problem that alcohol causes," said Babor.


Retail exclusivity is an effective way to prevent alcohol harm The research team ranked 69 different alcohol policy measures according to their effectiveness. Eight measures were classified as best practice in preventing and reducing alcohol-related harm. They fell into the areas of alcohol price, access and marketing restrictions and drink-driving prevention.


One of these best practices is an exclusive retail alcohol sales scheme.


"Studies evaluating the impact of retail monopolies have shown that an exclusive system can remove the commercial interest in maximising alcohol sales and thus reduce alcohol-related harm. In Finland, for example, Alko has a limited number of outlets, its pricing policies take into account public health considerations and it does not aggressively advertise its products," says Professor Robin Room of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University in Australia.


The THL also believes that Alko's exclusivity system should be maintained. This is on public health grounds. "The current exclusive system is the most responsible way to sell alcohol in terms of the well-being, health and safety of the population," says Markku Tervahauta, Director General of THL.


Business objectives also weigh in Finland

In Finland, too, the alcohol industry and retailers have pushed for major changes to alcohol policy that would benefit business but would be detrimental to the well-being of the population. The aim is to allow the sale of 15% alcoholic beverages in grocery stores. This change would effectively break Alko's retail monopoly.


"The sale of wines, i.e. virtually all alcoholic beverages and mixed drinks below 15%, in grocery stores would undermine the monopoly system that also covers spirits. The number of outlets selling alcoholic beverages above 5.5% would increase 12-fold if the current retailers of milder alcoholic beverages were also given the right to sell stronger alcoholic beverages," says Pia Mäkelä, research professor at THL.


Abolishing the retail monopoly on alcoholic beverages and increasing the availability of alcohol would very likely increase alcohol consumption and harm.


"There is strong research evidence that privatisation of alcohol sales leads to an increase in harmful alcohol consumption," says Robin Room.


The conclusion of the international team of researchers is that no single measure can counteract the harmful effects of alcohol and the promotional activities of commercial operators. The researchers recommend combining the most effective strategies and interventions into a package that has a broad impact on the environment in which people live, such as restrictions on the price and physical availability of alcoholic beverages.


Source: THL

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