Intended for healthcare professionals


Government support for alcohol industry: promoting exports, jeopardising global health?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 06 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3648
  1. Jeff Collin, professor of global health policy1,
  2. Emma Johnson2,
  3. house officer,
  4. Sarah Hill, senior lecturer 1
  1. 1Global Public Health Unit, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9LD, UK
  2. 2NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  1. Correspondence to: J Collin jeff.collin{at}

Successive UK governments have actively supported the expansion of alcohol exports. Jeff Collin, Emma Johnson, and Sarah Hill explore the implicit tensions between national economic interests and global health goals

During a recent visit to Diageo’s flagship distillery in Fife, the UK prime minister, David Cameron, praised whisky as “an iconic product with a rich heritage and a fantastic future” and “a truly global brand.”1 According to Diageo’s president of global supply and procurement, David Gosnell, the newly expanded distillery is “the engine for the growth of our Scotch whisky business” and an investment in “generating further export growth for our brands.”1

The prime minister’s seal of approval for a major investment in UK production facilities may seem unproblematic from the perspective of domestic politics and economic interests. Yet such forthright support for the global expansion of the world’s leading spirits manufacturer sits ill at ease with Cameron’s role as co-chair of the UN high level panel on the post-2015 development agenda. That panel’s report, published in the week preceding the distillery visit, included a commitment to reducing the global burden of non-communicable diseases2—for which harmful alcohol use is recognised as a leading risk factor.3 4 We examine how the role of the government in promoting the global expansion of the UK alcohol industry creates tensions with health goals.

Expansion into emerging markets

Globally, the harmful use of alcohol is responsible for around 2.5 million deaths annually,5 making it the eighth leading cause of death and the third leading risk factor for death and disability.4 6 Alcohol is also a major contributor to violence, unintentional injury, and social dysfunction.5 The World Health Organization has noted that the “lower the economic development of a country or region, the higher the alcohol-attributable mortality and burden of disease and …

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