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Distortions and Falsehoods

Posted by Marcus_Grant on 11 Dec 2014 at 01:19 GMT

I am writing with regard to the posted article by McCambridge et al, which contains numerous distortions and falsehoods.

Since I founded the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) in 1995, we have appreciated the work of valued collaborators on serious matters such as harm reduction, and where it intersects with harmful drinking, including the book Drinking in Context: Patterns, Interventions, and Partnerships. This book was not the result of a collaboration between ICAP and the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), as the McCambridge article wrongly states. I co-edited the book with three co-editors including Gerry Stimson, President of IHRA at the time, who did this work in his personal capacity.

In addition, the article wrongly states that in Drinking in Context, “[d]irectly targeting sub-populations was presented as preferable to whole-population measures, with many of the proposed interventions lacking effectiveness data.” In truth, the book positions targeted interventions alongside population-level measures. The authors explicitly state: “Population measures, such as controls over price and availability, certainly have a legitimate place in the array of ways in which any society chooses to respond to the pleasures of drinking and the problems of immoderate consumption, but they are not in themselves a sufficient response.”

McCambridge and his co-authors also wrongly state that ICAP “advocated the local responses favoured by industry in contrast to national policies,” which “led to new ‘city health’ conferences identifying city-level responses in the face of national policy inertia.” ICAP has never been involved with the referenced city health initiatives.

Likewise, the statement that ICAP was created to “counter the alcohol policy direction of WHO” is patently false. Rather, ICAP was created to address the appropriate role of alcohol in society and to help form inclusive partnerships, including industry, to help promote responsible drinking and combat irresponsible drinking.

Yet another falsehood is the statement that ICAP is an organization that produces “a competing alternative literature in order to undermine the use of established, independent, peer-reviewed science.” The truth is that ICAP’s publications attempt to bring together the entirety of the research evidence. This includes many dissenting views that reflect broad support within the research and prevention communities for harm reduction measures, and not exclusively the imposition of regulations, which may neither be universally appropriate or consistently effective.

The article additionally states without foundation that “[n]ational alcohol policies must therefore recognise that working in ‘partnership’ with industry has failed to reduce alcohol harm.” There is no basis for this sweeping assertion, which has a sole reference to a 2012 UK-focused article by McCambridge himself.

The authors take many other liberties with the truth in their descriptions of the work done by those with whom they disagree. They damn these professional efforts as “promoting favourable weak evidence,” or “bending science” – but with no foundation, save for secondary sources riddled with further unsubstantiated allegations. They are focused on “corporate capture,” but what’s being held hostage here is the real potential in constructive dialogue involving a variety of stakeholders, even – especially – if parties begin far away from agreement.

McCambridge et al also make the untrue statement that “the alcohol industry claims a role in policy-making at the national level in order to create regulatory environments conducive to corporate interests.” I quote from a July 19, 2013 letter to WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan from Heineken CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer as Chairman of the group of CEOs who are signatories to the Beer, Wine and Spirits Producers’ Commitments to Reduce Harmful Drinking:

"We are agreed that governments are the ultimate decision makers on their alcohol policies and that it would be inappropriate for industry to write government alcohol policy, however industry has a role to play in providing its views to governments and being consulted by governments as they develop policy."

In closing, I am pleased to note one accuracy in the article: ICAP and the Global Alcohol Producers Group (GAPG) have indeed merged to form the International Alliance to Promote Responsible Drinking (IARD). IARD will promote understanding of responsible drinking, and will continue to inform policy discussions based on balanced and evidence-based science. An important part of this work will be supporting the Commitments signatories as they continue their work to combat harmful drinking. An equally important part of this work will be to continuing to collaborate with members of the public health community and other stakeholders with a common interest in reducing harmful use, and a genuine interest in having the conversations necessary to make this happen.

Marcus Grant
President, International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP)

Competing interests declared: ICAP is funded by leading global producers of beverage alcohol. See www.icap.org for details under the “About Us” tab.