ALCOHOL CAUSES CANCER
NEW EVIDENCE OF ALCOHOL INDUSTRY DISTORTION OF SCIENCE
It is well known in the scientific literature that alcohol is a causative agent in at least seven different types of cancer including two of the commonest – breast and colorectal – but also including mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, and liver. The evidence is based on over 100 studies since 2007, and the risk is not simply associated with heavy drinking; quite moderate amounts of alcohol are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
However, the public is surprisingly ignorant of these facts.
One of the main reasons for this appears to be distortion of the evidence by the alcohol industry.
New research from Professor Mark Petticrew of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published in the most recent edition of DRUG AND ALCOHOL (DAR) , provides evidence that alcohol companies, and the “responsible drinking” organisations that they fund, routinely deny and distort the evidence that alcohol causes cancer.
This 2016 research involved an in-depth analysis of 26 global PR organisations linked with the alcohol industry – their websites and associated documentation on the issue of alcohol and cancer. The Tomorrow Project here in NZ is a good example of one of these PR organisations.
The researchers found three main strategies used to obfuscate the evidence about the alcohol-cancer linkage : denial, distortion, and distraction; tactics which closely resemble those previously used by cigarette companies. In particular they found these tactics being focused on bowel and breast cancer.
This new research demonstrates beyond doubt that misrepresentation of science is an organised and concerted effort of the alcohol industry, and not just incompetence, or local hostility to advocates for better alcohol policy.
Jennie Connor has been on the receiving end of such dishonesty and disrespect from a range of alcohol industry spokespeople with regard to her own work, particularly estimating the number of premature deaths from cancer that are due to drinking in NZ, and a paper published in the leading international alcohol journal ADDICTION that addressed scepticism about the causal link between alcohol and cancer.
The DAR research didn’t include any examples from New Zealand, but the Chief Executive of Spirits New Zealand, Robert Brewer, along with others, has provided very similar local examples of industry tactics in denying and distorting the evidence, and thereby trying to confuse the public by introducing distractions.
Last year, Robert Brewer responded to an opinion piece in the Dominion Post about the increasingly strong causative association between alcohol and cancer, suggesting Jennie’s latest paper was just “an opinion piece”, likening her work to that of an amateur who on finding a study that shows people who wear blue jeans drive fast then concludes that blue jeans must cause road fatalities.
Brewer’s associate, Samir Zakhari of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, also weighed in, accusing Jennie of “lacking scientific credibility” and basing her conclusions on “cherry-picking epidemiological articles”. Zahkari, previously a biomedical scientist at NIAAA, also said in reference to Jennie’s research: “attributing cancer to social moderate drinking is simply incorrect and is not supported by the body of scientific literature”. He gets a special mention in this new DAR published study for providing misleading “scientific” support for industry claims.
Hopefully the finding of this DAR research will help politicians understand the importance of keeping alcohol industry players out of policy-making in New Zealand, as is now the case for tobacco industry representatives in relation to smoking policy. The alcohol industry is using exactly the same tactics as the tobacco industry did over the link between cigarette smoking and cancer in the past.
In June 2015, our Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman said in a television interview about the role of the alcohol industry in the Health Promotion Agency: “I think it is actually important that we have a balanced Health Promotion Agency and that industry is represented in some form there.”
This DAR research shows what the alcohol industry will do to protect its enormous profit at the expense of public health. It is disappointing that our current government seems beholden to the alcohol industry and appears to view the opinion of public health scientists as unimportant.
Here is where the DAR publication can be found:
Petticrew M, Hessari NM, Knai C, Weiderpass E. How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer. Drug and Alcohol Review 2017, DOI: 10.1111/dar.12596 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dar.12596/epdf
Doug, Jennie, Sam, Tony and Geoff
Alcohol Action NZ
We need more than just tinkering