Alcohol research and the alcoholic beverage industry: issues, concerns and conflicts of interest

Authors


Thomas F. Babor, Department of Community Medicine and Health Care, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, CT 06030-6325, USA. E-mail: babor@nso.uchc.edu

ABSTRACT

Aims  Using terms of justification such as ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘partnerships with the public health community’, the alcoholic beverage industry (mainly large producers, trade associations and ‘social aspects’ organizations) funds a variety of scientific activities that involve or overlap with the work of independent scientists. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the ethical, professional and scientific challenges that have emerged from industry involvement in alcohol science.

Method  Source material came from an extensive review of organizational websites, newspaper articles, journal papers, letters to the editor, editorials, books, book chapters and unpublished documents.

Results  Industry involvement in alcohol science was identified in seven areas: (i) sponsorship of research funding organizations; (ii) direct financing of university-based scientists and centers; (iii) studies conducted through contract research organizations; (iv) research conducted by trade organizations and social aspects/public relations organizations; (v) efforts to influence public perceptions of research, research findings and alcohol policies; (vi) publication of scientific documents and support of scientific journals; and (vii) sponsorship of scientific conferences and presentations at conferences.

Conclusion  While industry involvement in research activities is increasing, it constitutes currently a rather small direct investment in scientific research, one that is unlikely to contribute to alcohol science, lead to scientific breakthroughs or reduce the burden of alcohol-related illness. At best, the scientific activities funded by the alcoholic beverage industry provide financial support and small consulting fees for basic and behavioral scientists engaged in alcohol research; at worst, the industry's scientific activities confuse public discussion of health issues and policy options, raise questions about the objectivity of industry-supported alcohol scientists and provide industry with a convenient way to demonstrate ‘corporate responsibility’ in its attempts to avoid taxation and regulation.

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