So I’m coming out swinging with my mouth open! Or does that description actually pertain to the alcohol industry? This was published by Alcohol Policy UK earlier today and it’s a dozy of a post so I’m sharing my edited highlights and strongly urge you to go read it in full. The tune is in honour of the booze lobby brigade and I need to eat my words as I was utterly convinced these guidelines would be diluted or diminished in some way but no!
Following heated debate over the guidelines, this week a new industry led group – the Alcohol Information Partnership – has also been announced which it says aims to ‘bring balance to the debate’. A recent Wall Street Journal article also recently reported that with ‘moderate drinking under fire’ alcohol companies across the globe are ‘on the offensive’ in a ‘multimillion-dollar global battle‘.
DoH consultation response & qualitative insights
The consultation response captures many of the themes played out in media coverage of the guidelines as of course many of the responses were from health and industry groups. As such, the responses to most of the questions were evenly split between positive and negative when excluding the 785 responses from individuals through the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), who have been active in opposing the idea of a ‘no safe level’ message in particular.
The consultation response includes a number of tables highlighting revised wording and rationale (see figure above on regular drinking).
In addition, a qualitative research report [pdf] was also commissioned by Public Health England to gather a sample of public attitudes and beliefs regarding the new guidelines. Focus groups were conducted covering a range of demographics including low, increasing and higher risk drinkers.
Some key findings of note from the report include:
- Virtually all drinkers were aware of the dangers of drinking to excess, especially the long term health problems, but few felt they were at risk.
- Guidelines were often discussed in terms of how much they allowed or permitted people to drink, rather than being a guide to what consumption levels mitigate the risks of drinking.
- Response to the new draft guidelines was generally favourable, and they were preferred to earlier drafts.
- Most drinkers believed the information about the risks of alcohol and accepted the advice and tips on reducing the risks.
- The exception to this general acceptance was higher risk drinkers, particularly those over about 35, who saw the guidelines as an attempt to stop them enjoying themselves, and felt the advice was irrelevant to them (my bolding as I was struck by this fact – what is it about those born before the 1980’s and our drinking?)
- Higher risk drinkers project the risks onto other people who they believe are not in control of their drinking.
- Many drinkers had difficulty grasping how and where the guidelines would be used. In current form – words on paper – they did not attract attention or invite reading.
- In tone the guidelines were perceived as measured, neutral and focused on information. There was little sense of the tone being nannying, except among a heavy drinking minority, who disagreed with the principle of the guidelines.
The qualitative research report suggests that the guidelines were generally considered plausible and well constructed, except among higher risk drinkers who ‘see guidelines as unnecessary and object to recommended limits. They regard drinking as a reward for coping with demanding lives, and they want to guard their freedom to drink as they wish. They see advice from government sources or from the medical profession as challenging and possibly threatening this freedom.’ This is consistent with evidence suggesting many risky drinkers do not consider their own drinking as problematic, in part owing to normative misperception.
I really do think the drinks industry would quite like the world to shut it’s mouth 😉
Public health 1 – Alcohol Industry 0