KEY players in the alcohol industry, including supermarkets, drinks companies and trade bodies, misled the Scottish Government about the effects of minimum pricing legislation, a report has claimed.
A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine condemned representations made by bodies including the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) and supermarkets including Tesco and Morrisons, claiming that they “ignored, misrepresented and undermined” scientific evidence when lodging their opinions on the government’s consultation into alcohol in Scotland.
The research, published today in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal, said that groups had made “unsubstantiated claims” and submitted “weak survey-based” evidence to the Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol consultation in 2008, which resulted in proposals including alcohol-only tills at off-licences and bans on cut-price drink offers.
Plans to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol in Scotland were postponed by ministers last year as a result of a growing legal challenge to the move. “There is a broad consensus internationally among researchers that the most effective measures to control problems caused by alcohol are to raise the price, control availability and restrict marketing activities,” said Dr Jim McCambridge, head of the research team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“However, our study shows that key players in the alcohol industry constructed doubt about this wealth of scientific evidence and instead chose to promote weak survey-based evidence as well as making unsubstantiated claims to their advantage. These tactics mean it is harder for governments to make evidence-based policy where industry is involved.
“The public interest is not served by the alcohol industry’s misinterpretation of research evidence and we must consider to what extent we should allow the health of the population to be compromised by these commercial interests.”
The industry hit back at the claims, insisting that its evidence was legitimate and accurate.
Gavin Hewitt, SWA chief executive, said: “As with all submissions we make, the material we lodged for the Scottish Government 2008 consultation presented an accurate picture of the impact of various measures proposed to address alcohol misuse. Our evidence and views were based on firm evidence and suitably referenced.
“Criticising the democratic right of industry stakeholders to make submissions to public consultations while ignoring flaws and shortcomings in public health ‘evidence’ presents a less than balanced critique.”
Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, said: “The WSTA rightly responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation in 2008, outlining the reasons why we believed minimum unit pricing to be unfair, ineffective and possibly illegal – including providing evidence about what works.
“It is for government to review all the evidence it receives as it considers introducing new policy. It is disappointing that this study fails to recognise the good work being delivered by the drinks trade, health community and government working in partnership.”
The study, which was funded by charity Alcohol Research UK, said that industry regulator the Portman Group had made “unsubstantiated” claims that the proposals could “increase the appeal of alcohol to young people by creating a mystique” and thereby “turning alcohol into a ‘forbidden fruit’.”
A spokesman for the Portman Group said: “The whole point of a consultation is to invite a range of views to inform government policy – our 2008 response is published in full on our website and does not misrepresent anything. In it, we say that public policy should focus on tackling the irresponsible elements of our drinking culture and not penalise the majority of moderate, responsible drinkers who are doing the right thing.”