Under the influence? Academics question alcohol industry's role in key public health declaration

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Academics are concerned over the level of industry participation. ©iStock
Academics are concerned over the level of industry participation. ©iStock

Related tags Alcohol Policy Brussels Declaration

Corporate interests may have influenced a key public health declaration covering the alcohol and tobacco sectors, suggest Australian and UK academics, resulting in it being 'little more than a vehicle for vested interests'.

The Brussels Declaration had extensive involvement of the tobacco and alcohol industries during its development, they argue, claiming this and offered 'the potential to advance their agendas'.

The 20-point blueprint, designed to provide the ethics and principles for science and policy-making, was launched at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, in February 2017.

But, despite the widespread backing of many leading scientists and institutions, “there are major concerns about how it was developed, and, in particular, the extensive involvement of tobacco and alcohol industry actors,”​ argue the authors in the journal Tobacco Control​.

The initiative, which reportedly originated with a communications consultancy (Sci-Com), was developed on the back of a series of consultations with more than 300 interested parties from 35 countries.

But only 165 of these people are named, so it’s not clear who else was involved, nor is there any information on how they were all selected, the authors claim.

Industry access

Seven different alcohol organisations were also involved, including the Brewers of Europe, Spirits Europe, the Portman Group, and the Scotch Whisky Association, say the authors.

In all, 20 of the 165 named individuals directly represented tobacco or alcohol industry organisations. The academics point out that the Declaration proposes that policy-makers give greater access to industry, and the organisations that represent its interests.

The authors caution that as yet it’s not clear if the Declaration has influenced policy-makers’ views and intentions. But it has the potential to do so, they argue.

“The Brussels Declaration argues for the need to protect science from distortion by vested interests. Yet it appears to be a vehicle for advancing the vested interests of certain corporate sectors,”​ they write.

“Calls for research integrity reflect core values of the research community. They should not be used as instruments to undermine science or to assist harmful industries.”​ Careful monitoring is needed to ensure that science policies and public health are not unduly influenced, they conclude.

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