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Alcohol industry downplaying cancer risks, study claims

By Josie Clarke

The alcohol industry is misleading consumers with distorted and distracting health messages that downplay any related risk of cancer, researchers claim.

The industry is using "denying, distortion and distraction" strategies to minimise evidence in activities that have parallels with those of the tobacco industry, according to a study.

The research was led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) with Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

Experts analysed information relating to cancer on the websites and documents of almost 30 alcohol industry organisations between last September and December, finding most showed "some sort of distortion or misrepresentation" of evidence.

The industry most commonly presented the relationship between alcohol and cancer as highly complex, implying there was no evidence of a consistent or independent link, the study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, found.

Other tactics included denying that any relationship existed or claiming that there was no risk for light or moderate drinking, as well as presenting alcohol as just one risk among many.

The researchers said one of their most important findings was that the industry appeared to specifically omit or misrepresent evidence on breast and colorectal cancer, possibly because they were among the most common cancers.

They urged policymakers and public health bodies to reconsider their relationship with the industry, which is involved in developing alcohol policy and disseminating health messages to the public in many countries, in light of the findings.

Mark Petticrew, Professor of Public Health at the LSHTM and the study's lead author, said: "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.

"Public awareness of this risk is low, and it has been argued that greater public awareness, particularly of the risk of breast cancer, poses a significant threat to the alcohol industry.

"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."

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