• The journal publishes both invited and unsolicited letters. It is at the editor's discretion whether such letters are sent out through peer review

The author of the editorial published in February's issue of Addiction (‘About smoke and mirrors: the alcohol industry and the promotion of science’[1]) makes one or two useful points, but several are less so.

I was one of the (minor) contributors to Drinking in Context[2]—one of Lenin's ‘useful fools’, it appears, whose naivety has been preyed upon by a scheming alcohol industry. I take comfort at being in some good company.

There are too many points that could be made. I offer only three.

First, the book is about what it is about. It is not about what it is not about. It is about harm reduction. It is not about reducing overall alcohol consumption. However, I have met no harm reduction advocates who refute the role of whole population measures. All they say is that the latter approach cannot solve all problems, and will not be effective in addressing some particular problem groups.

Secondly, whether or not the alcohol industry, as alleged, ‘continues to act unethically’ in some of its advertising and marketing practices, is a quite separate issue. Whether or not this is true has no bearing on the contents of the book under discussion. The same is true of the editorial and authorship arrangements for the book, and of the funding arrangements for some of the collaborating organizations (all of which is, in any case, acknowledged fully).

Thirdly, and crucially, scientific argument (if this is what the editorial purports to be) is advanced by addressing the issues, and normally requires at least a minimum assumption of goodwill towards colleagues. Ignoring the substance of the issues, and proceeding by speculative assertion (and worse) as to authors' motivation, inferred subtext and so on, is a poor substitute for addressing constructively the issues discussed in the book. Of course, it makes it tempting for the reader, in turn, to infer that the writer has no better arguments.

We are faced with growing social and health problems associated with alcohol consumption. They deserve better than this.

Conflict of interest

G. R. is a consultant to the International Centre for Alcohol Policy (ICAP) and was remunerated by them for his contribution to Drinking in Context. ICAP is funded by leading producers of beverage alcohol.