The researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine with the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden found that nearly 21 of the organisations present no, or misleading, information on breast cancer, such as presenting many alternative possible risk factors for breast cancer, without acknowledging the independent risk of alcohol consumption. They analysed the information relating to cancer which appears on the websites and documents of nearly 30 alcohol industry organisations around the world between September 2016 and December 2016.
‘The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer. No type of alcohol is better or worse than another, it is the alcohol itself that leads to the damage, regardless of whether it is in wine, beer or spirits.’
Lead author Mark Petticrew from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said that the weight of scientific evidence is clear - drinking alcohol increases the risk of some of the most common forms of cancer, including several common cancers." "Our analysis suggests that the major global alcohol producers may attempt to mitigate this by disseminating misleading information about cancer through their 'responsible drinking' bodies," Petticrew added. Through qualitative analysis of this information they identified three main industry strategies.
Denying or disputing any link with cancer, or selective omission of the relationship, Distortion: mentioning some risk of cancer, but misrepresenting or obfuscating the nature or size of that risk and Distraction: focussing discussion away from the independent effects of alcohol on common cancers. The researchers aimed to determine the extent to which the alcohol industry fully and accurately communicates the scientific evidence on alcohol and cancer to consumers. Petticrew stated that the existing evidence of strategies employed by the alcohol industry suggests that this may not be a matter of simple error.
This has obvious parallels with the global tobacco industry's decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the risk of cancer, which also used front organisations and corporate social activities. The findings also suggested that major international alcohol companies may be misleading their shareholders about the risks of their products, potentially leaving the industry open to litigation in some countries. Petticrew added that despite their undoubtedly good intentions, it is unethical for them to lend their expertise and legitimacy to industry campaigns which mislead the public about alcohol-related harms.
"It's important to highlight that if people drink within the recommended guidelines they shouldn't be too concerned when it comes to cancer. For accurate and accessible information on the risks, the public can visit the NHS website," the researchers suggested. The team noted that there is an urgent need to examine other industry websites, documents, social media and other materials in order to assess the nature and extent of the distortion of evidence.