Alcohol industry funded campaigns talk about culture, but disown any role in creating it

  • Post category:News

The Diageo-funded ’Stop Out of Control Drinking’ report launched this week is primarily focused on culture and tells us that our harmful drinking is ’deeply rooted in our culture, traditions and lifestyles’. It’s hard to disagree with that.

However, it is not surprising that whereas the report finds that Irish people are to blame for our culture of harmful drinking and says we must take responsibility for it, the prominent role of the alcohol industry in creating this culture and its vested interest in sustaining it is completely omitted.

’Stop Out of Control Drinking’ also informs us that there is no ’silver bullet’ and that ’changing harmful drinking cultures and behaviours will require a range of joined up and mutually reinforcing actions as well as changes in policy by government and many other actors’. This is true.

The fact that the three key evidence-based policy areas for reducing alcohol harm – alcohol marketing, availability and pricing – do not feature in the report’s 14 recommendations was also predictable. To reduce alcohol harm in Ireland we have to reduce our consumption, which means selling less alcohol – the exact opposite of what the alcohol industry strives to do.

Undoubtedly we have a harmful drinking culture, one that wreaks havoc on this country, claiming three lives every day and causing a wide-range of harms to individuals, families and communities throughout Ireland.

However, that culture did not just spring up organically. We did not go from drinking five litres of pure alcohol per capita in 1960 to over 11 litres today without significant shaping of our culture by those who profit from the sale of alcohol.

This is a culture-shaping process that has become all the more evident as the global alcohol industry itself has become concentrated and large multi-nationals are using their considerable power and influence to protect the interests of their shareholders. It has led to a situation where, all too often, profit trumps public health.

When considering our culture, we should ask if it is really the taste of beer or vodka that is so attractive to an impressionable 13-year-old boy or girl, or is it the carefully packaged and heavily promoted myths surrounding these products that they are continuously exposed to, whether it is on the jerseys of their heroes on the sporting field, in the music videos of their favourite bands or on social media, which has been flooded with alcohol marketing.

The funders of the ’Stop Out of Control’ drinking campaign are one of many alcohol companies currently spending millions on multi-faceted marketing campaigns to leverage the Rugby World Cup to sell more of its products. It is a timely example of just how exposed to alcohol marketing our children and young people are, and how nonsensical it is to claim these campaigns have no impact on alcohol consumption.

These sophisticated alcohol marketing campaigns promote alcohol as a positive, risk-free product that is central to having fun, being popular and successful, among many other desirable things. This has an impact on our culture.

While this relentless promotion of alcohol carries on unabated, alcohol products have become more widely available and affordable in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, than ever before. This has an impact on our culture.

Alcohol industry funded campaigns talk about culture, but disown any role in creating it. They preach the need for change, but primarily recommend awareness and education, as they are shown to be less effective in achieving behaviour change. The reality is that through their self-regulated advertising and marketing campaigns the alcohol industry is effectively the primary educator on alcohol in Ireland, with damaging consequences.

Alcohol harm is plain for everyone in Ireland to see. However, the intentions of the alcohol industry are often not so easy to see as it hides in plain sight through various vehicles that preach ’awareness’, ’responsibility’ and ’culture change’.

The responsibility, we are told, lies with the drinker, their friends, their parents, or our ’culture’, but never with the alcohol products and those who produce and promote them, while they simultaneously fight regulations designed to protect the public from alcohol harm.

Regulation is undoubtedly not as popular a concept as education, but it saves lives. In fact, it doesn’t just save lives, it can make lives better too, for everyone in a country, as we have clearly seen in Ireland in relation to drink-driving and tobacco legislation – both of which were fiercely opposed by the alcohol and tobacco industries.

The ’Stop Out of Control Drinking’ initiative, as reflected by its recommendations, is not fully committed to changing our harmful drinking culture – it simply can’t be when the alcohol industry has such a strong, vested interest in sustaining this culture it has been so influential in creating.