Front groups, Astro-turfing, and SAPROs

Drinkwise is an example of an australian social aspects/Public relations organisation (aka sapro) that is funded by the alcohol industry

Under the banner of corporate social responsibility, Drinkwise produces high-profile advertising campaigns, that are not based on independent peer-reviewed evidence of effectiveness and which do not threaten industry profits.

In some cases, what SAPROs describe as "public health" messages are in fact product endorsement.

A list of some SAPROs and other bodies is available here.

Research has been published examining the use by industry of SAPROs to project an image of social responsibility which protecting profits. See our Library section for more.

Example stills from Drinkwise advertising campaigns 2012-2015


Media and Publicity Campaigns

The alcohol industry uses media campaigns to further their interests

Our Nightlife Queensland was a social media campaign and web campaign aimed at building opposition to the introduction of restrictions in venue trading hours.

The campaign pushed the view that employment, small businesses and cultural vitality would be threatened by the changes.


Casting Doubt Over the Science

The alcohol industry works to undermine scientific consensus

Commissioning Research and Publications - Muddying the water

The alcohol industry commissions research with the intention of creating the impression that the scientific community lacks a consensus thereby creating doubt or confusion among the general public about the health impact of alcohol consumption, and about the effectiveness of countermeasures that threaten profits (e.g., increasing tax on alcohol). Conversely, it seeks to play up the effectiveness of approaches known to be ineffective, e.g., alcohol education in schools.

By funding research, the alcohol industry may secure the support of credible allies from within the scientific community who may consciously or unconsciously act in ways that compromise the science and support industry positions.

Hiring Industry-friendly "Independent" "Experts"

Like other dangerous consumption industries, the alcohol industry relies on industry-friendly 'experts' who are critical of control and regulation and are paid to publicly testify in favour of industry.

Selective about Evidence

The alcohol industry is known to 'cherry-pick' evidence.  This is where the industry selects data that align while ignoring data that do not align with their position.  They may rely on one or a small number of studies that go against the evidence base as a whole.

Financial Incentives for Researchers

The alcohol industry financially incentivises researchers to declare sympathetic opinions by paying or sponsoring them.  This includes honoraria for speaking, paid travel, and other perks.


COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN ALCOHOL COMPANIES AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF INDUSTRY GROUPS OR TRADE ASSOCIATIONS

These collaborations give the alcohol industry power and access to greater resources to fight against policies that may affect profits or promote voluntary or so-called 'self-regulation' strategies which are known to be ineffective.

Company Collaborations


The alcohol industry has a long history of influencing public policy through the development or promotion of non-regulatory initiatives and voluntary codes

Developing and promoting nonregulatory initiatives

Alcohol industry bodies often recommend policies that are proven to be ineffective, particularly when regulatory measures are being proposed. The measures often being recommended by alcohol industry bodies include education and awareness raising, which on their own, have limited effectiveness.

Following the introduction of restrictions to trading hours in Sydney in 2014, the Australian Hotels Association New South Wales, recommended a suite of alternative policies to a parliamentary Inquiry. These policies included education and training for venues, in schools and awareness raising among young people. They also recommended tougher penalties for alcohol-related offences. None of these measures have been proven effective in reducing alcohol-related violence. These policies also do not target the availability of alcohol, which would impact on the profits of the businesses who the Australian Hotels Association represent. 

 

Developing and promoting voluntary codes and self-regulation

The alcohol industry has a long history of developing and promoting voluntary codes and self-regulation in Australia. One such code is the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code (ABAC) which has been in place in Australia since 1998. The ABAC has been repeatedly found to be ineffective because it does not cover the whole alcohol industry as the system is voluntary, it does not cover placement of advertising or event sponsorship and it does not effectively cover new media, such as social media.

The ABAC also does not have the ability to enforce breaches, as all alcohol producers are not signatories. An example of this is the decision by the ABAC that the ‘shot bucket’ contravened the ABAC. However, because the producer was not a signatory of the ABAC, no action was taken.

The alcohol industry often refers to the ABAC when opposing government regulation of alcohol advertising, claiming that the alcohol industry has in place a comprehensive compliance system.

 

Developing new regulation and planning implementation

The alcohol industry has been reported having developed a suite of national policies which were then promoted to governments in developing countries. Four countries were found to have almost identical policies, all promoted by the brewing company SABMiller and their advocate (see Bakke & Endal, 2010) . By employing people of apparent repute, especially with existing government jobs, the industry was able to create a veneer of respectability to government policies they developed to protect their interests.

Policy Substitution, Development and Implementation


Direct lobbying refers to contact between the alcohol industry and policymakers 

Alcohol industry groups are significantly involved in lobbying politicians. In its simplest form, lobbying is meeting with politicians, advisers and government representatives. Relationships can also include appointments between key members of political parties and alcohol industry groups.

In the state of New South Wales, the Australian Hotels Association (AHA NSW) had significant connections with the Liberal Government when they returned to office in 2010. Paul Nicolaou was the Chief Executive of the AHA NSW and also the head of the Millennium Forum, a Liberal Party fundraising organisation. The AHA NSW also engaged Michael Photios who was a member of the Liberal Party Executive and also key Liberal lobbyist. These relationships between the AHA NSW and Liberal Party allowed for significant access to key decision makers in the state.

Indirect Lobbying

The alcohol industry has been shown to use a range of individuals, community organisations and front bodies to lobby for their policy position. Examples include the documented use of a South Australian government official by SAB Miller in Africa to lobby for industry-friendly policies (see Bakke & Endal, 2010), or the Australian SAPRO to lobby for ineffectual policies on alcohol advertising (see Miller, de Groot, Mckenzie, & Droste, 2011) and labelling.

 

Lobbying