How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2018 Mar;37(3):293-303. doi: 10.1111/dar.12596. Epub 2017 Sep 7.


Introduction and aims: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of several types of cancer, including several common cancers. As part of their corporate social responsibility activities, the alcohol industry (AI) disseminates information about alcohol and cancer. We examined the information on this which the AI disseminates to the public through its 'social aspects and public relations organizations' and related bodies. The aim of the study was to determine its comprehensiveness and accuracy.

Design and methods: Qualitative analysis of websites and documents from 27 AI organisations. All text relating to cancer was extracted and analysed thematically.

Results: Most of the organisations were found to disseminate misrepresentations of the evidence about the association between alcohol and cancer. Three main industry strategies were identified: (i) denial/omission: denying, omitting or disputing the evidence that alcohol consumption increases cancer risk; (ii) distortion: mentioning cancer, but misrepresenting the risk; and (iii) distraction: focussing discussion away from the independent effects of alcohol on common cancers. Breast cancer and colorectal cancer appeared to be a particular focus for this misrepresentation.

Discussion and conclusions: The AI appears to be engaged in the extensive misrepresentation of evidence about the alcohol-related risk of cancer. These activities have parallels with those of the tobacco industry. This finding is important because the industry is involved in developing alcohol policy in many countries, and in disseminating health information to the public, including schoolchildren. Policymakers, academics, public health and other practitioners should reconsider the appropriateness of their relationships to these AI bodies.

Keywords: alcohol; cancer; corporate influences; public health.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcoholic Beverages / adverse effects*
  • Deception*
  • Food Industry*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Public Health