The Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs

Clinician's Corner - June 2017

DAR Front Cover

Clinician's Corner| May 2018         EARLY VIEW

Clinician’s Corner

“How the alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer”

In this age of ever-advancing technology, the internet and social media offer unprecedented potential to ensure that accurate, evidence-based information and interventions reach our community. These media may be the only way in which people access information about aspects of their health and wellbeing. While they have empowered the general public to become more active agents in their own health care, there is the very real risk of exposure to inaccurate (at best) and dangerous (at worst) information and advice with which to make critical decisions about health care and associated options.

With this in mind, Petticrew et al. [1] conducted a qualitative analysis of the websites (and documents) of organisations with stated affiliations with the ‘social responsibility’ arms of the alcohol industry. Their aim was to determine the accuracy with which these organisations published information about the known risks between alcohol and cancer. The authors identified several key errors in the information contained on key websites, such as the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, Educ’alcool, Drinkaware and Portman Group. In their conclusions, the authors suggest that this misinformation may not be due to simple error, but rather due to the alcohol industry’s imperative to mitigate risk to the global sales of alcohol.

In response, Larsen et al. [2] (Drinkaware), Nadeau & Sacy [3] (Educ’alcool), Martinic [4] (International Alliance for Responsible Drinking) and Timothy [5] (Portman Group) clarify the information on their sites. Overall, these authors argue that the claims made by Petticrew et al. [1] were based on information drawn from one page or one section only of the websites, and draw attention to other areas on their sites that offer seemingly more accurate information consistent with the latest evidence. In addition, Drinkaware highlight their independence from the alcohol industry, and Educ’alcool identify that some of the ‘inaccurate’ information on their website was due to outdated information that was accurate at the time of publication.

In response, Petticrew et al. [6] note they did not claim that all of the information included on these websites is inaccurate or misleading, but that there is a mix of accurate and misleading or distracting information. They argued that the justification of presenting information on a host of confounders was weak, and that it sought to undermine the evidence of a relationship between alcohol and cancer. Petticrew et al [6] did welcome minor corrections made in some of the responses, but argued that their findings remain unchanged.

Clinicians are regularly identified as a key source of credibility and trusted advice for the treatment-seeking public. We keep abreast of the latest evidence via Drug and Alcohol Review and related academic publications. As clinicians, we thus have an opportunity and perhaps an imperative to talk with our clients about the information they are consuming online. We can initiate discussions about what our clients are reading, what they are remembering, and link this with the evidence base to correct myths or misconceptions. More weight can be given to information supported by multiple published studies, followed by one published study, and those published most recently – rather than on expert (including clinical) opinion.

Clinicians are also encouraged to read the original article and the responses and rejoinder in the March issue concerning the specific issue of alcohol industry-related websites and information. Not only can this assist them to make up their own minds about the accuracy and motives behind these issues, but they also can use these as an exemplar on how to decipher information displayed on websites in general.

Frances Kay-Lambkin

Deputy Editor, Drug and Alcohol Review

 

References

  1. Petticrew M, Maani Hessari N, Knai C, Weiderpass E. How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer. Drug Alcohol Rev 2018;37:293-303. doi:10.1111/dar.12596
  2. Larsen J, Wallace P, Sim F, Chick J, Jarvis S, Lidington I, Neidle S, Ogden G, Owens L. Accuracy of alcohol and breast cancer risk information on Drinkaware’s website. Drug Alcohol Rev 2018;37:304-6. doi:10.1111/dar.12676
  3. Nadeau L, Sacy, H. Educ’alcool response to Petticrew et al.: ‘How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer’. Drug Alcohol Rev 2018;37:307. doi:10.1111/dar.12675
  4. Martinic M. The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking's response to Petticrew et al.: ‘How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer’. Drug Alcohol Rev 2018;37:308-9. doi:10.1111/dar.12674
  5. Timothy J. Portman Group response to Petticrew et al.: ‘How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer’. Drug Alcohol Rev 2018;37:310-2. doi:10.1111/dar.12673
  6. Petticrew M, Maani Hessari N, Knai C, Weiderpass E. The strategies of alcohol industry SAPROs: Inaccurate information, misleading language and the use of confounders to downplay and misrepresent the risk of cancer. Drug Alcohol Rev 2018;37:313-5. doi:10.1111/dar.12677