The British Medical Journal (BMJ) yesterday published the feature ‘Under the Influence‘ which discussed the fact that government officials and ministers had 130 meetings with drinks industry lobbyists while the UK government was considering alcohol price controls. The BMJ investigation concluded that it was a sham and that the government consultation with politicians ignored the strong health evidence in favour of protecting the interests of industry.
It went on to say that:
This open door for the industry contrasts with the lack of access granted to the health community, and even to Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a former general practitioner who campaigned long and hard in parliament for minimum pricing. When rumours began to circulate that the policy had been scrapped, she confronted David Cameron during prime minister’s questions in March 2013, demanding a one to one meeting at which she could “explain to him the evidence base.”
“Everything I tried was blocked,” she told the BMJ. “Every avenue I went down to try to get a meeting before the decision was announced was closed off, or I had a meeting and it would be cancelled the day before.”
The decision to scrap the policy, she said, was “absolutely shameful” and evidence that “The influence of industry, within media and government, is too great.
“You’ve got a government telling doctors to get out there and reduce avoidable mortality and yet they’ve stepped away from one of the best tools they could deliver for doctors to be able to do that, which I think is outrageous.”
This was picked up by the Guardian who reported that:
In an open letter, 21 senior doctors and campaigners, including Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol for the Royal College of Physicians, raised fears that “big business is trumping public health concerns in Westminster”.
“The drinks industry continues to have high-level access to government ministers and officials while no forum currently exists for the public health community to put forward its case in an environment free from vested interests,” Gilmore said.
“With deaths from liver disease rapidly rising and teenagers now presenting with advanced liver failure, the government has a duty to realise its commitment to introduce minimum pricing.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said that “Public health policy is in utter disarray. After the tobacco industry last year, these revelations raise yet more concerns about the influence of big business on this government’s policies.”
One of the comments was particularly interesting to me as I work in schools:
What would you tell the children that can (not) compete with drink advertising, sponsorship and the drinking culture of these islands?
Schools try to tackle the issues, but children are drinking from 13 and younger.
Schools are working on educating the children, but £800m of drinks advertising (and the rest probably) cannot be competed (with) without legislation and other regulation.
I understand that for the drinks industry this is their business but it is having unintended consequences of addiction in people well under the legal age to drink. This is supported by my experience where the youngest person I am aware of presenting for a detox for alcohol addiction was just 11 years old.
I can not condone this as a person, parent, nurse or public health professional and we need to find ways to tackle the problem and balance the influence of the drinks industry and the financial might and lobbying power of these corporations.