Liquor firms' input spurned

By Martin Johnston

Public health specialists say alcohol industry has no place in making policy and should stop.

The Government backed down last year after industry lobbying on RTDs. Photo / APN
The Government backed down last year after industry lobbying on RTDs. Photo / APN

The liquor industry must be shut out of alcohol policy-making and implementation, to prevent manufacturers from undermining efforts to reduce the harms of alcohol, says an international grouping of public health specialists.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance will today issue a "statement of concern" on the role of the industry and its attempts to implement the World Health Organisation's global strategy on alcohol.

The statement is partly a critique of promises last October - in response to the strategy - by 13 global alcohol producers, including some with links to New Zealand, such as Carlsberg, Heineken, Diageo and the Brewers Association of Japan. Steinlager brewer Lion is owned by Japanese beer company Kirin.

One of the 16 authors of the statement, Professor Sally Casswell of Massey University at Auckland, said the thrust was that the global industry commitments were "all whitewash".

"They are trying to put themselves in a position of playing a partnership role with governments but they have to be seen as consistently opposing effective measures."

She cited the Government's back-down last year, after industry lobbying, on plans to restrict the sales and strength of RTDs - ready-to-drink mixes that are popular with young people and considered a problem by public health advocates.

The statement of concern says governments' alcohol policy agencies should be "protected from influence of commercial and vested interests.

"Do not engage commercial or vested interest groups, or their representatives, in discussion on the development of alcohol policy. Input from these groups on implementation of policy must be critically evaluated in light of their vested interests."

Commercial brewers, distillers and winemakers are urged to consider how they can reduce the harm their products cause, "rather than act as public health professionals".

Suggestions include reducing the alcohol content of products, refraining from lobbying against effective public health measures and giving up political activities designed to reduce or eliminate evidence-based alcohol-control policies.

Lion's external relations director, Liz Read, said: "It's disappointing that some public health professionals don't see the industry having a role in helping New Zealanders to make better choices and understand the benefits of drinking responsibly.

"I think that's counter-intuitive to what the public would expect of public health specialists. All the research we've done with consumers says they believe alcohol manufacturers and retailers have a role to play."

The 13 alcohol producers' promises included strengthening codes of practice on marketing alcohol and expanding them into digital media.

The authors of the statement of concern say voluntary codes were often violated and a complete ban on alcohol promotion was preferable.

- NZ Herald

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