Cancer cover-up? Alcohol industry accused of mass deception
Drinkers are unaware of the frighteningly real risks facing them, according to the authors of a study suggesting the associated risks of alcohol have been “distorted or misrepresented” in nine out of 10 websites and publications funded by the alcohol lobby.
Researchers have claimed about four percent of new cancer cases annually in the UK can be traced back to alcohol consumption – which is now an established risk.
Campaigns which encourage drinkers to be “aware” of their intake do not go far enough to highlight the dangers, academics claim.
Some marketers have been accused of denying any cancer link with alcohol products, seriously endangering and misleading drinkers.
The study by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Sweden's Karolinska Institutet looked at websites and how they discussed health risks.
Published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, the study found in 2016, 30 companies downplayed the risk.
“The most common approach involves presenting the relationship between alcohol and cancer as highly complex, with the implication or statement that there is no evidence of a consistent or independent link,” the report reveals.
“Others include denying that any relationship exists or claiming inaccurately that there is no risk for light or ‘moderate’ drinking, as well discussing a wide range of real and potential risk factors, thus presenting alcohol as just one risk among many.”
The study also said some industry publications went as far as denying there was any danger at all for light or moderate drinking.
Alcohol can increase the risk of breast and bowel cancers, yet links were commonly omitted or misrepresented, the experts said.
Lead author Mark Petticrew, professor of public health, said the industry actively attempts to offer other explanations for the cause of breast cancer, instead of alcohol.
“Existing evidence of strategies employed by the alcohol industry suggests that this may not be a matter of simple error. This has obvious parallels with the global tobacco industry’s decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the risk of cancer, which also used front organisations and corporate social activities,” Professor Petticrew said.
The professor said tactics practiced by “responsible drinking bodies” were comparable to those employed by the tobacco industry for decades, while advising drinkers to turn to the NHS for information.
"This has obvious parallels with the global tobacco industry's decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the risk of cancer, which also used front organisations and corporate social activities,” he said.
However, anyone drinking no more than 14 units a week was advised they need not be overly concerned about the risks.
“With only one in 10 people aware of the link between alcohol and cancer, people have both a need and a right to clear information about the health risks of drinking alcohol” Alcohol Health Alliance UK chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore told Reuters.
“The time has come to stop relying on voluntary agreements with an alcohol industry that is putting profits before people's health.”