Researchers have said that the alcohol industry is misleading the public by downplaying the risk of cancer through similar tactics to the tobacco industry.
A study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet found the industry is using “denying, distortion and distraction” strategies to minimise evidence.
The industry most commonly presented the relationship between alcohol and cancer as highly complex, implying there was no evidence of a consistent or independent link, according to the study.
Other tactics included denying that any relationship existed or claiming that there was no risk for light or moderate drinking, as well as presenting alcohol as just one risk among many.
Alcohol consumption is an established risk factor for a range of cancers, including oral cavity, liver, breast and colorectal cancers, and accounts for about 4% of new cancer cases annually in the UK.
The latest British government advice on alcohol, issued last year, makes an explicit link between cancer and alcohol.
It states: “The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.”
During the consultation phase the alcohol industry challenged the link with cancer.
The authors of the report, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal, said it was important to highlight that those who drink within the recommended guidelines – not more than 14 units a week for both men and women – “shouldn’t be too concerned when it comes to cancer”.
According to Mark Petticrew, Professor of Public Health at the LSHTM and the study’s lead author: “The evidence linking alcohol consumption and cancer is reasonably clear and has firmed up over recent years. The information on these websites, given out by alcohol bodies, appears to be not representing that evidence base, which is quite consistent.
“We know the tobacco industry attempted to confuse the relationship between lung cancer and smoking and put out a lot of very distracting information. We see similar types of argument use in these alcohol industry websites.”
According to Sky News, Institute of Alcohol Studies chief executive Katherine Brown said: “This report shows that, like the tobacco industry before them, alcohol companies are misleading consumers about the evidence linking their products to cancer.
“We cannot rely on a profit-driven industry to promote public health. Consumers have a right to know the truth about alcohol and cancer, so they can make fully informed decisions about their drinking.”
The alcohol industry denied the report’s findings.
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