Alcohol industry accused of misleading consultation on minimum pricing

A study has claimed the evidence on alcohol control measures was 'distorted' by supermarkets and manufacturers.

Store shelves of alcohol bottles including Buckfast and Smirnoff. Quality image.

Key players in the alcohol industry have been accused of misleading a Scottish Government consultation over minimum pricing laws.

A study published in the PLOS (Public Library of Science) Medicine online journal claims that evidence on effective alcohol control measures was "distorted" by supermarkets, drinks companies and trade associations.

The research, carried out by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of York, accuses the industry of using "tactics" to influence policy reform during the Scottish Government's 2008 consultation Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol.

The consultation looked at proposals to introduce minimum unit pricing and end irresponsible promotions of alcoholic drinks.

The Scottish Government has passed legislation setting the minimum price per unit at 50p, although no date has been set to enforce this because of a legal challenge to the proposed law.

The UK Government's ten-week public consultation on whether to introduce a baseline amount of 45p per unit of alcohol closed in February. Its response is expected before May.

Researchers have raised concerns over the alcohol industry's involvement in policy-making for England and Wales because not all submissions made to the Home Office have been made public.

Dr Jim McCambridge, who led the research, said: "There is a broad consensus internationally among researchers that the most effective measures to control problems caused by alcohol are to raise the price, control availability and restrict marketing activities.

"However, our study shows that key players in the alcohol industry constructed doubt about this wealth of scientific evidence and instead chose to promote weak survey-based evidence as well as making unsubstantiated claims to their advantage.

"These tactics mean it is harder for governments to make evidence-based policy where industry is involved.

"The public interest is not served by the alcohol industry's misinterpretation of research evidence and we must consider to what extent we should allow the health of the population to be compromised by these commercial interests."

The study looked at 27 submissions made to the Scottish consultation by the alcohol industry.

It said Tesco criticised the data supporting the Scottish Government's proposals, claiming there was "little in the way of evidence" to support the impact of price on consumption.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) is said to have cited only a small community trial in its submission, lacking thorough data.

The Portman Group, the social responsibility body for alcohol producers, made claims that the proposals could "increase the appeal of alcohol to young people by creating a 'mystique"', the study said.

Asda is also said to have made "unsubstantiated" claims that "minimum pricing and a promotions ban will create incentives for the black market and criminals and illegal door-to-door sales".

WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: "The WSTA rightly responded to the Scottish Government's consultation in 2008 outlining the reasons why we believed minimum unit pricing to be unfair, ineffective and possibly illegal - including providing evidence about what works.

"It is for government to review all the evidence it receives as it considers introducing new policy.

"It is disappointing that this study fails to recognise the good work being delivered by the drinks trade, health community and government working in partnership.

"In Scotland we are committed to our work as part of the Scottish Government Alcohol Industry Partnership.

"Since the consultation we have seen a sustained downward trend in alcohol consumption in Scotland - down 14% since 2004 and down 5% in the last two years alone.

"We maintain that, rather than penalising the majority by pushing up prices through minimum unit pricing, much more can be achieved working with the trade to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse."

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