Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Lobby Watch

The Portman Group

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 21 January 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:b5659
  1. Claire Harkins, doctoral candidate
  1. 1Department of Geography and Sociology, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow G1 1XN
  1. c.harkins{at}

    When it comes to alcohol awareness, is the government under the influence of the drinks industry?

    The stated aim of the Portman Group is to promote social responsibility in the alcohol industry, with a particular focus on responsible marketing. Established in 1989, it claims to “show leadership on best practice in the area of alcohol responsibility” and to “foster a balanced understanding of alcohol-related issues.”1 2

    Its former chief executive, Jean Coussins, rejected any suggestion that the group “represent[s] the industry” or acts as a “trade association or lobby group.”3 However, the evidence of its involvement in research and policy consultations indicates that it is not independent of the industry and that it lobbies on behalf of the industry.

    In its statements the group emphasises individual responsibility, blaming a minority of heavy drinkers for alcohol related problems. This ignores many aspects of alcohol related harm and is inconsistent with the evidence base that supports current public health thinking.4 5 The group recently flexed its muscles in the debate around the Scottish government’s plans to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol—a policy that is supported by public health professionals worldwide but …

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