A favourite Aussie pastime is putting you at risk

Alcohol industry pushing for slackened guidelines, spruiking the health benefits of drinking.

A favourite Aussie pastime is putting you at risk

How ‘Big Alcohol’ is trying to fool us into thinking drinking is safer than it really is

Australia’s drinking guidelines are currently under review. From shutterstock.com Peter Miller, Deakin University

Over recent weeks, the alcohol industry has been drumming up media discussion around Australia’s new drinking guidelines.

Australia’s guidelines on alcohol consumption are under ongoing review by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with new draft guidelines expected to be released in November.

The alcohol industry has labelled the current guidelines (two standard drinks per day and four in any heavy episode of drinking) as harsh, and voiced concern the guidelines may be tightened further.

Read more: Politicians who become lobbyists can be bad for Australians' health


The global alcohol industry has been increasingly proactive in trying to undermine the ever-improving science on the harms associated with the product they make money from manufacturing, promoting and selling.

This is somewhat unsurprising given the industry would be significantly less profitable if we all drank responsibly.


Drinking guidelines

Panels of scientists develop drinking guidelines around the world by assessing the best and most up-to-date evidence on alcohol and health, and determining consumption levels which might put people at risk.

They then provide the information to health professionals and the public to allow people to make informed decisions about consumption. The guidelines are neither imposed nor legislated.

The current 2009 Australian guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce their lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. They recommend no more than four standard drinks on one occasion to reduce a person’s risk of injury and death.

So how are the industry players trying to protect our drinking culture from such “harsh” guidelines?

Alcohol Beverages Australia: who they are and what they’re claiming

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) is an industry body for global alcohol producers and retailers, including Asahi Brewers from Japan, Diageo Spirits from the UK, Pernod Ricard from France, Coca-Cola Amatil from the USA, and many others. Bringing together multiple industry groups to lobby government was a key strategy developed by the tobacco industry.

The NHMRC review of Australia’s drinking guidelines was open to public submissions on the health effects of alcohol consumption until January 2017. At this time, the ABA submitted a report claiming drinking alcohol carries health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They requested the review take this into account in drafting any new guidelines.

In their communications with the media this month, the ABA resurfaced their 2017 submission to the process. It seems they have not updated the information to reflect the latest evidence.

Read more: Ten reasons some of us should cut back on alcohol

The most up-to-date evidence has shown previous research was substantially flawed in terms of the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease, blood pressure, breast cancer and overall mortality.

We know consuming any type of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer of the bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver and breast. The World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a class 1 carcinogen, along with asbestos and tobacco, for decades.

Any health benefits the ABA demonstrated evidence for is outweighed by the risks.

The current drinking guidelines in Australia recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for healthy adults. From shutterstock.com

Alongside claiming the benefits of drinking alcohol need to be considered, to make their case, the ABA have compared drinking guidelines across different countries. In doing so, they are seeking to highlight Australia’s guidelines are ‘stricter’ than those of most other countries.

In making sense of these figures, the difference in drink driving levels is worth considering. It takes the average male four standard drinks to reach 0.05 in two hours and around seven standard drinks to reach 0.08. This is a big difference for most of us.

Those countries with 0.08mg of alcohol per L of blood as the legal limit are willing to accept more than triple the risk of having a car accident than Australia’s 0.05.

We need to ask whether these are countries whose health and safety models we want to follow.

Read more: Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?

This is not a new problem

The industry is using language like “harsh” and “strict” to ferment public opposition to any tightened guidelines.

This spin strategy is predictable. The alcohol industry has been fighting for many decades to preserve profits over public safety, disregarding consumers’ rights to know the contents of their products, and the harms associated.

They fought against the 0.05 drink driving limit in the 1950s, and have successfully stopped Australian governments telling us about the cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption. For example, while policymakers have proposed warning labels with information about cancer risk be placed on alcoholic drinks, this is yet to eventuate.

The ABA is currently resisting a push to explicitly warn consumers drinking is harmful to unborn babies by means of mandatory labelling on all alcohol containers, suggesting it’s “too much information”.

These examples show how the industry continues to actively muddy efforts to educate the public of the harms of alcohol consumption.

Read more: Alcohol increases cancer risk, but don't trust the booze industry to give you the facts straight

Notably, we’ve seen all of this before, particularly in the tobacco industry, or “big tobacco”, which has previously employed strategies to minimise health concerns and delay effective legislation.

So it’s hard not to wonder if the ABA are worried about the bottom line of their corporate masters, and therefore trying to influence deliberations through a media campaign, similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry.The Conversation

Peter Miller, Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    3rd Nov 2019
    Why should we or the government take any notice of self-interested industry groups from alcohol, tobacco, coal, etc , only interested in their own profit but dismiss scientific research, environmental groups, etc interested in the welfare of the community.
    3rd Nov 2019
    Exactly, Keithb! Naturally these interested parties are going to promote everything to their own advantage!
    3rd Nov 2019
    I agree we are told lies all the time and they bend the scientific research to convince people to keep consuming their goods. They are not working for the greater good of society but working for shareholders of their companies and the CEO's pay packets.
    3rd Nov 2019
    I don't have a problem regardless of the guidelines. I rarely drink any alcohol at all! So this article doesn't have any resonance for me :)
    3rd Nov 2019
    I worked as a drug & alcohol counsellor for over 20 years, and the progression of addiction to this particular substance is frightening! I think that because alcohol is legal people think it's safe to drink in any amount, and, of course, the government makes huge amounts of $$ from the sale of alcohol. Often heavy drinking can lead to damage to the liver, and, most especially, to the brain, as witnessed by the often anti-social behaviour of many drinkers!! I wonder how many people who engaged in their youth in heavy "social" drinking now have some form of alcohol-related dementia as a result? It sure as heck scared me out of drinking the stuff!
    3rd Nov 2019
    It damages the brain and the liver from the first drink and your liver has to work overtime to detox it from the body.
    3rd Nov 2019
    One thing I have noticed about about old heavy drinkers is that they live a long and happy life. The rest of the family may not agree, however.
    3rd Nov 2019
    Rosret, what about the young heavy drinkers, do they live a happy but short life?
    3rd Nov 2019
    Sick and Tired of these so called " social engineers" telling me what I should and should not do.Yes I do drink, but am fully aware of the necessary health/life balance. Don't have much time for the so called Industry Lobby either... I make my own informed choice in life and accept any consequences along the way.
    By all means highlight the dangers of" life's excesses".... but no need to dramatize it .. you only dilute the massage.
    3rd Nov 2019
    I guess it depends on whether you seek optimum health and preventative measures to lower your risk of disease, I will not touch alcohol, not even if it is used as a base for something. The liver hates it and it is of no nutritional benefit, and it causes more harm than good in society. I do not even attend parties or bbqs anymore because I hate seeing people change after one drink and hide behind their drinks, while I have to watch their brains cells die in front of me. There is a lot of young people waking up to the damage from it and are going sober, there are even non alcohol bars becoming available and is a growing industry for more non alcohol party drinks. Manufacturers of alcoholic drinks should also lower the content of alcohol too.
    Pass the Ductape
    5th Nov 2019
    Guaranteed - if you are - or have been a heavy drinker - you ARE almost certain to get bowel cancer!
    Pass the Ductape
    5th Nov 2019
    Anyone in this category will do well to keep a check on their bowel situation and hope they get on top any symptoms early - it's the only chance you will get!

    And further to this - don't place a great deal of trust in bowel screening - it isn't all that 'cracked up' to what it's supposed to be be!
    5th Nov 2019
    Along with too much animal protein and not enough fiber.
    Pass the Ductape
    6th Nov 2019
    Agree musicveg
    5th Nov 2019
    This is typical of the alcohol lobby in their quest for greater profits. The extension of trading hours has also proven disastrous, but they refuse to accept the evidence of emergency department staff and first responders regarding the impact of excessive drinking. Perhaps if they were the ones being assaulted, either at home, by a drunken partner, or while doing their job trying to keep the peace or care for injured, they might not be so keen to increase 'safe' alcohol intake. Alcohol damages cells and is of no benefit. That being said I do like a wine but couldn't handle even Australia's recommended safe levels, let alone those of the USA. This is all about greed on the part of Alcohol producers, and no doubt will be supported by a government greedy for revenue, regardless of the consequences.
    5th Nov 2019
    Totally agree,it is all about profits not only for the manufacturers but also the Government with the taxes. Look how long it too to do something about cigarettes, now they want to go with the e-cigarettes and even that is harmful to your health but the tobacco industry is pushing it as being more "healthy".

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