Intended for healthcare professionals


Corporate ventriloquism undermines action on alcohol harms

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: (Published 03 August 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n1879
  1. May C I van Schalkwyk, NIHR doctoral research fellow1,
  2. Nason Maani, assistant professor in public health evaluation12,
  3. Simone Pettigrew, professor of public health3,
  4. Mark Petticrew, professor of public health1 2
  1. 1Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2SPECTRUM Consortium, UK
  3. 3George Institute for Global Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: MCI van Schalkwyk may.vanschalkwyk{at}

Industry, women’s rights, and WHO’s draft alcohol strategy

Alcohol remains a serious global health concern, with a pressing need to reduce consumption among specific population segments, particularly youth, people who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, and those drinking heavily. These considerations are reflected in the World Health Organization’s draft 2022-2030 global alcohol strategy,1 which is intended to facilitate consultations with member states, civil society, economic operators, and individuals.

The draft attracted criticism for one sentence in the areas for action, which included the statement that “appropriate attention” should be given to “prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age,” as well as drinking among young people and protecting people from pressures to drink.

The Portman Group—the UK alcohol industry’s “social responsibility body”—responded with a press release describing this passage as “sexist and paternalistic” and accusing WHO of overstepping its remit.2 This was picked up by UK newspapers and followed by a Twitter storm that provoked further media coverage focused on perceived paternalism.

It is highly surprising that …

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