How the alcohol industry is influencing to block bailout policies – Croakey Health Media
Introduction by Croakey: Industries use many strategies to block and undermine public health interventions. A new study highlights some long-standing lessons from tobacco control and clinical research on the impact of industry research funding.
Researchers from the United Kingdom, reporting in the journal Social Sciences and Medicine, identified 60 systematic reviews published between 1996 and 2020, with a total of 231 authors, which studied the effects of alcohol on heart health.
Fourteen of the reviews were undertaken by authors with a history of funding the alcohol industry, including five that were funded directly by the alcohol industry itself. All 14 such reviews found a cardioprotective effect of alcohol.
Among author reviews with no history of alcohol industry funding, results were mixed, with only 25 of these 46 reviews (54%) finding evidence of protective health effects.
The study also found other differences between journals with links to the alcohol industry and those with no such link. The authors said their findings underscore the importance of paying “attention to the actions of the alcohol industry to influence science.”
Media engagement is another well-used strategy for the industry, as pointed out a new study investigate why Sydney’s ‘lockout’ or ‘last drink’ laws were repealed despite doing exactly what they were designed to do: prevent alcohol-related harm from ending up in emergency services of our hospitals.
The study analyzed 445 print and online news articles on laws published between 2014 and 2020, identifying 435 stakeholders in the coverage, with industry sources most often mentioned.
Researchers from the Australian Prevention Partnership Center at the Sax Institute, Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney write below that “a concerted and effective media campaign by industry and political campaign groups” has been involved.
Health advocates and policymakers need to be aware of the ways in which industry groups can successfully use the media to influence governments and policy-making, write some of the study’s authors, Dr Elly Howse, Dr James Kite, Dr Christina Watts and Dr Bronwyn McGill.
Elly Howse, James Kite, Christina Watts and Bronwyn McGill write:
Sydney’s “lockout” or “last drink” laws have achieved exactly what they were designed to do: prevent alcohol-related harm from ending up in our hospital emergency departments. So why were they repealed?
Many of us who work in public health policy and research have discussed this issue over the past 18 months.
The available evidence suggests that the laws have been successful in reducing and preventing alcohol fueled violence, emergency room presentations, facial trauma and non-domestic assaults in central Sydney.
Ultimately, what ultimately led to a decline in public support and the eventual repeal of the laws was a concerted and effective media campaign by industry and political campaign groups.
Our analysis of the role played by the news media, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, contains important lessons for public health and prevention in general.
Our research suggests that it is not enough to demonstrate that a public health or prevention policy works in terms of health or social outcomes. This is especially the case when the policy is contested in the media and in the community at large, including by industry groups.
Policymakers and public health policy advocates need to tell a compelling story about impact beyond health, with stakeholder support for that narrative in the media.
The “last drinks” or “lock-out” laws
These laws were introduced in early 2014 by the New South Wales Coalition Government. They were introduced after community and media pressure to reduce alcohol-related violence and crime in central Sydney, especially after the tragic deaths of several young men.
The laws included ‘last drinks’ and ‘lockdown’ provisions for licensed premises in the CBD areas of Sydney and Kings Cross, where locations were to end alcohol service and refuse new customers after a certain time. of the night.
The laws were modeled after the very successful Newcastle laws, implemented in 2008 after similar problems with alcohol-related violence.
We performed an analysis of media coverage of Sydney’s latest drink laws between 2014 and 2020. We found that support for the laws changed significantly over that six-year period.
While media coverage of the laws was initially largely favorable, over time the media cited proportionately more people opposed to the laws than those who were in favor.
Indeed, the people cited who were opposed to the laws went from 47% of media coverage in 2014 to 73% in 2020 (Table 1).
We also analyzed 647 quotes from the most frequently cited stakeholders in the media, examining their main arguments for or against the laws.
Those who opposed the laws in the media included politicians and political leaders, hotel business owners, industry representatives and political campaign groups. These stakeholders referred to a wide variety of arguments and evidence regarding the impact of the laws, in particular the apparent impact on Sydney’s “night economy”.
For example, columnist Elizabeth Farrelly wrote: “if this continues, we won’t have a city. We’ll have a ring of dead suburbs by day around a dead CBD at night“.
The CEO of the Merivale hotel group, Justin Hemmes, drew up a picture of “a nocturnal ecosystem of restaurants, bars, retail, arts, live music and entertainment to draw people into the CBD at night ”.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the laws were “a sledgehammer to crack a nut“.
Industry stakeholders, a group that included bar and pub owners as well as industry lobby groups such as the Australian Hotels Association, were also much more likely to be mentioned and cited by the media. . These stakeholders rarely mentioned health outcomes – a finding that has been echoed in other public health research.
This research suggests that industry groups and stakeholders are diverting attention from the health impacts of their products or activities and questioning public health evidence, whether in alcohol policy, tobacco control or the taxation of sugary drinks.
There were far fewer quotes from individuals or groups expressing support for the laws. These supporters tended to focus on arguments related to crime, safety and health.
This is not surprising given that these stakeholders were representatives of health and physicians (such as local doctors), or NSW Premier Mike Baird, who was a public and vocal champion of laws and the importance of protecting the community from alcohol. related violence: “These laws relate to our moral obligation to protect the innocent from drunken violence.
Public support for the laws – although initially high – has also fluctuated.
As the opposition grew, the pressure on the government to repeal the laws also increased, notably from a major popular campaign that became a political party called “Keep Sydney Open”.
This style of public campaigning and lobbying has led to several surveys and reviews initiated by the government to examine the effectiveness and impact of laws. These reviews and inquiries also provided ample opportunity for submissions to the public and industry, which in turn increased media coverage of the issue.
Eventually, after increasingly negative media coverage and lobbying from various stakeholders, the NSW government pledged to repeal the laws in 2020 and 2021.
A success for the industry?
Our research indicates that opponents of the laws have been successful in using the media to influence public debate about the laws.
Reframing the problem, using campaign groups like Keep Sydney Open, and engaging in inquiries and public submissions have been the main ways opponents have made their voices heard in the media.
Our analysis also suggests that there is a complex relationship between media coverage, public support, and policy implementation.
Regulatory and law-based interventions to protect public health can be difficult to implement and maintain, especially when powerful industry groups oppose the regulation of their products.
We have seen it in other areas of public health, such as tobacco control. With the growing prominence given to opponents of the laws in the media, it is perhaps not surprising that the government has repealed the laws.
Key lessons for prevention
We believe our analysis has four main lessons for governments and advocates who wish to create and maintain preventive health policies, especially those that can be challenged by industry groups:
- Focus beyond the health impacts of interventions, using non-health arguments to defend policy
- Build a narrative that speaks to a large group of people and stakeholders
- Consider a range of outcomes affected by new policies and regulations, such as business and economic outcomes, or the possible impact on the performing arts and live music
- Be aware of the ways in which industry groups can successfully use the media to challenge and reject these policies.
We in public health also need to recognize that alcohol consumption in Australia and the policies governments are implementing to address the harm of alcohol are complex.
Political decisions are based on different values, beliefs and behaviors, which can be challenged by different groups and populations.
However, health advocates and policy makers need to be aware of the ways in which industry groups can successfully use the media to influence governments and policy making.
The case of Sydney’s “last drink” laws suggests that ultimately the industry won the political argument.
Dr Elly Howse is Research Director and Principal Investigator at the Australian Prevention Partnership Center, and Adjunct Researcher at the School of Public Health, University of Technology, Sydney.
Dr James Kite is Senior Lecturer in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Sydney School of Public Health
Dr Christina Watts is a researcher, The Daffodil Center, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney
Dr Bronwyn McGill is Associate Researcher in Evidence for Policy and Practice, Sydney School of Public Health
See the archive of Croakey’s stories about alcohol and public health.
Support our public interest journalism for health.
Make a donation
Other ways to support.