Industry needs voice on policy

Don’t ban drinks companies from discussions, say trade groups

By Dave Hunter

ALCOHOL industry trade bodies have hit out at claims that drinks companies should be excluded from future alcohol policy consultations following the publication of a controversial new report.

The document, published last month by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said drinks companies and supermarkets “misrepresented” evidence on minimum pricing in submissions to the Scottish Government’s 2008 consultation. It called for the industry to be “restricted” from future consultations on alcohol policy.
Trade groups last week slammed the report.
“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,” said Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Gavin Hewitt.
“Various independent statisticians and commentators in the UK and overseas have questioned the claims made regarding alcohol pricing in Canada presented by public health lobbyists as ‘firm evidence’.”
A statement from drinks industry watchdog the Portman Group denied any misrepresentation on its part.
“The whole point of a consultation is to invite a range of views to inform government policy,” said the statement.
“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.”
In an interview with the BBC last week Dr Jim McCambridge, an author of the report, titled ‘Industry Use of Evidence to Influence Alcohol Policy: A Case Study of Submissions to the 2008 Scottish Government Consultation’, accused the industry of a “conflict of interest” over alcohol policy.
“It’s as if in alcohol policy we’re trying to change a lightbulb and the alcohol industry, instead of helping us by holding the stepladder steady, is actually trying to push the stepladder over,” he said.
Drinks bodies are not the only ones to disagree with the findings of the report.
Speaking to SLTN, Stephen McGowan, head of licensing at law firm TLT, said drinks firms are essential to forming effective alcohol policy.
“The parallel that was used is this: if you’re talking about regulating car safety, do you exclude or include the motor vehicle industry?” said McGowan.
“Of course you include them, and it’s the same situation with the alcohol industry. If you’re going to regulate the alcohol industry you have to work in partnership with them because they’re the people that are the industry.”
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said it is vital that government and the alcohol industry continue to work together to tackle alcohol abuse.
“We’ve got the Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership, where we try and all work together,” said Waterson.
“We work together with Alcohol Focus Scotland, with health people on local licensing forums. We might not agree with them all the time but hopefully we try and do our best to have credible arguments.”