Feature Alcohol

Doctors and the alcohol industry: an unhealthy mix?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1889 (Published 02 April 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1889

Re: Doctors and the alcohol industry: an unhealthy mix?

Letter in reply to BMJ feature on the alcohol industry

The World Health Organization agrees with many, but not all, points made in the BMJ feature on the alcohol industry and the accompanying editorial.1-2 References to the WHO Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol require some clarification, particularly concerning claims that industry is simply doing “what WHO asked for in the strategy.” Not so.

The Global Strategy, which was unanimously endorsed by WHO member states in 2010, restricts the actions of “economic operators” in alcohol production and trade to their core roles as “developers, producers, distributors, marketers and sellers of alcoholic beverages.” The strategy stipulates that member states have a primary responsibility for formulating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. The development of alcohol policies is the sole prerogative of national authorities. In the view of WHO, the alcohol industry has no role in the formulation of alcohol policies, which must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests.

WHO is grateful to the many researchers and civil society organizations that keep careful watch over the behaviour of the alcohol industry. This behaviour includes direct industry drafting of national alcohol policies, or drafting through the International Center for Alcohol Policies and other entities or “public health consultants”, which it funds. As documented in recent reports, some of the most effective policy options to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, as defined by WHO, are conspicuously absent in these policies.3,4

WHO appreciates the Statement of Concern issued by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and has invited representatives of the statement’s authors to meet senior WHO management to explore these concerns in greater detail. Conflicts of interest are an inherent risk in any relationship between a public health agency, like WHO, and industry; conflict of interest safeguards are in place at WHO and have recently been strengthened. WHO intends to use these safeguards stringently in its interactions with the alcohol industry.

1Gornall, J. Doctors and the alcohol industry: an unhealthy mix? BMJ 2013;346:f1889 (2 April).
2Grove, T. Promises, promises BMJ 2013; 346: f2114 (3 April).
3Bakke, O, Endal, D. Alcohol policies out of context: drinks industry supplanting government role in alcohol policies in sub-Saharan Africa. Addiction 2010;105:22–28.
4Jernigan, DH. Global alcohol producers, science, and policy: the case of the International Center for Alcohol Policies. A J Publ Health 2012;102:80 – 89.

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General
World Health Organization

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 April 2013
margaret chan
Physician/Director-General
World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
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