De Britse staatsgezondheidsorganisatie blijft ondanks een massaprotest van academici campagne tegen alcoholmisbruik voeren met de organisatie Drinkaware. Het protest, gesteund door meer dan 300 ‘geleerden’ bestempelt Drinkaware tot verdachte partner omdat het grotendeels wordt ‘gefinancierd door de alcoholindustrie’. Onder de protesterenden bevinden zich enkele nationaal bekende alcoholhaters, meldt thedrinksbusiness.’
Public Health England trekt zich niets van het protest aan: out of touch academians in ivory towers.
‘Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, has rejected calls from academics to stop a proposed health campaign with the charity Drinkaware.
PHE has plans to work with the charity Drinkaware to launch a campaign warning of the dangers of binge drinking alcohol, encouraging taking regular days off from drinking and raising awareness of alcoholic units and the government’s drinking guidelines.
It has been put forward as a, “first step in reframing our relationship with the alcohol industry”.
But the plan has fallen foul of some 332 academics who argue that as Drinkaware receives much of its donations from the alcohol industry it is effectively the equivalent of dealing with the alcohol industry directly and risks “PHE’s status as a provider of impartial, evidence-based advice”.
Sir Ian Gilmore, PHE’s chief alcohol advisor, resigned last month over the partnership and the signatories of the latest later are also threatening to cease advising PHE if the partnership goes ahead.
In an open letter (which can be read here) they say they are “alarmed” by the partnership and claim there are “clear-cut examples of inaccurate information on Drinkaware’s website”.
No examples of such inaccuracies were put forward in the letter, however.
Many of the academics who signed the letter, including Petra Meier, Alan Brennan, Mark Petticrew, Dame Sally Macintyre, Colin Drummond, Richard Horton and Kate Pickett are well known for their affiliations with organisations that often actively hostile to the alcohol industry (such as the Institute for Alcohol Studies and Alcohol Health Alliance), wish for the total exclusion of the industry in all matters of public health and favour increasingly stringent government measures on alcohol in the UK.
Meier, Petticrew and Macintyre were also part of the panel that worked with PHE to help introduce the revised drinking guidelines in 2016 – using evidence that has shown to have been massaged by analysts at the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group to achieve the desired results.
Dr John Holmes, who organised the letter, is a member of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, as are Meier and Brennan.
But Selbie has hit back at the critics, saying to The Times: “Drinkaware is not the alcohol industry, rather an education charity with millions of unique visitors each year. We are taking this opportunity to ensure the advice it gives is evidenced, pragmatic and sensible.
“The health harms of alcohol require action. Public health has always involved controversy and we will not shy away from this. Our work on food, on sugar and salt, initially met negative reaction but is now widely accepted.”
For its part, Drinkaware maintains that its advice has been looked over by an independent panel of medical experts and that it “meets the exacting requirements of the department of health’s information standard.”
‘Not a front’
The leader in today’s Times also questions the stance of the academics and their belief that Drinkaware is a “front” for the industry.
Acknowledging the dangers to both physical and mental health caused by excessive drinking – many times in ways consumers do not realise – and the associated cost on the public purse and health services that can result, why, asks the Times, are those apparently engaged in promoting public health working in a way that seeks to exclude a potentially useful partner.
As it states: “There is no good case for PHE to accede to the critics’ demands. The academics’ letter claims that ‘the reputational risk to the agency’s status as a provider of impartial, evidence-based advice is significant’. The critics also complain that the message on responsible drinking is part of a wider campaign on public health, and that it thereby links an industry-funded body with the notion of healthy lifestyles.
“Yet Drinkaware is not a front for the alcohol industry. It is an independent body whose funding comes from drinks companies rather than from the taxpayer. Provided that the relationship is transparent, it is benign and the joint campaign’s output can help Britain’s drinking culture for the public good.
The campaigning message is both sensible and realistic. Mr Selbie should not allow academics’ purist objections to the drinks industry to override his responsibility to work with it to develop a pragmatic approach to public education. Consumption of alcohol, which is pleasurable to many, is not in the same category as the use of tobacco products, which are intrinsically harmful and addictive. A successful drinks industry has social responsibilities. PHE is right to harness them in this initiative.”
db view: The problem of excessive drinking is real and one that public health bodies in the UK are right to recognise and seek to combat. In fact it is vital. It is also right, as The Times notes that a successful alcohol industry, which generates millions in tax for the Exchequer and half a million jobs both directly and indirectly, exercise social responsibility, something it does but, perhaps, could do more of.
The drinks industry is indeed a major donor to Drinkaware but any claims that this somehow compromises the charity and its message are fatuous and blind to reality. No one can look at previous campaigns mounted by Drinkaware and claim they have been manipulated or sugar-coated by industry meddling to dilute their message. Drinkaware is visited by some 9 million people a year. Why attempt to close down this crucial avenue to spread positive health messages?
The open letter signed by these 332 academics shows that the health lobby and within it the anti-alcohol lobby are driven not so much by ways to bring about a concerted effort to drive up public awareness on the dangers of over-consumption of alcohol but are in fact so utterly blinded by dogma and by an irrational and paranoid fear of ‘Big Alcohol’ that they are apparently willing to set back the cause of reasonable debate on this issue through a petulant and futile gesture.
Such is their clear belief in their own moral righteousness and the purity of their cause that they can seemingly only envisage the other side in the debate as a vast capitalist entity devoid of compassion, thriving on the human misery it both creates and perpetuates. It is the language and outlook of old religious temperance and ‘demon drink’ crossed with a moralising parentalism that, in essence, argues that people cannot be trusted and need to be saved from themselves – or indeed those at PHE who, the letter implies, are gullible enough to likewise fall under the insidious spell of Big Alcohol.
Time after time the arguments of these academics are based on insinuation and fallacious claims, which themselves all too often go unchallenged in much of the press and are student level activism dressed as science.
As is the case in all matters open for debate, this is the outlook of zealots and fanatics, devoid of reason and intrinsically harmful. The claim for example that the World Health Organisation recommends that, “the alcohol industry has no role in the formulation of alcohol policies” and that industry activity should be limited to their “core roles as developers, producers, distributors, marketers and sellers of alcoholic beverages”, is not in fact an official piece of advice from the WHO but rather from an article in the British Medical Journal in 2013.
Comment by the WHO director-general just this year on how best to tackle many health issues worldwide actually states that in order to achieve success: “We’re also engaging with the private sector, who will be crucial partners in achieving health for all. The Framework of engagement with non-State actors, adopted by the World Health Assembly last year, provides the guardrails for that engagement, but FENSA is not a fence. We must use whatever partnerships are open to us, in whatever way we can, to achieve our goals. We have to believe in partnerships – it’s the only way.”
The vast majority of people in this country – as studies by many of the same people named above consistently show – drink within sensible limits, enjoy drinking and will resist what they see as overweening meddling from snooty, out-of-touch academians in ivory towers.
The drinks industry is not a vast, unfeeling corporate behemoth, it is made up of sensible men and women like anyone else, the vast majority of whom are well aware (perhaps more than most) of the dangers of alcoholism and excessive consumption and would be happy to support initiatives that educate the public.
Any person who claims to have the public’s best interests at heart would do well to recognise both this obvious fact and the benefits of a greater communal effort to encourage sensible drinking. That these academics do not is just the final evidence needed to see that, ultimately, this debate is less to do with finding common ground and positive ways forward and all about seizing the monopoly of power and communication on this issue for their own benefit’.