Aims: To compare the current status of global alcohol corporations with tobacco in terms of their role in global governance and to document the process by which this difference has been achieved and the consequences for alcohol control policy.
Methods: Participant observation in the global political arena, review of industry materials (submissions, publications, conference presentations, websites) and review of published literature formed the basis for the current analysis.
Results: Recent events in the global political arena have highlighted the difference in perception of the alcohol and tobacco industries which has allowed alcohol corporations to participate in the global governance arena in a way in which tobacco has not been able. The transnational producers of alcohol have waged a sophisticated and successful campaign during the past three decades, including sponsorship of intergovernmental events, funding of educational initiatives, research, publications and sponsoring sporting and cultural events. A key aspect has been the framing of arguments to undermine perceptions of the extent of alcohol-related harms to health by promoting ideas of a balance of benefits and harms. An emphasis on the heaviest drinkers has been used to promote the erroneous idea that 'moderate' drinkers experience no harm and a goal of alcohol policy should be to ensure they are unaffected by interventions. This leads to highly targeted interventions towards the heaviest drinkers rather than effective regulation of the alcohol market.
Conclusion: A sophisticated campaign by global alcohol corporations has promoted them as good corporate citizens and framed arguments with a focus on drinkers rather than the supply of alcohol. This has contributed to acceptance in the global governance arena dealing with policy development and implementation to an extent which is very different from tobacco. This approach, which obscures the contribution supply and marketing make to alcohol-related harm, has also contributed to failure by governments to adopt effective supply-side policies.
© 2013 The Author, Addiction © 2013 Society for the Study of Addiction.