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The top seven tactics industry uses against public health

The top seven tactics industry uses against public health

When someone attacks you, you are more than likely to fight back – it is only natural.

But what if you are doing something that has a bad effect on other people?

Tobacco, sugary drinks, junk food and alcohol all have an adverse effect on our health, being implicated in the development of a number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer.

All these four items are freely and legally available for purchase around the world, but not surprisingly, public health advocates are pushing for stronger measures to try and curb their consumption.

Naturally, the tobacco, F&B (food and beverage), and alcohol industries are not pleased by this attempt to decrease their sales, and have their own strategies to push back.

Industry tactics

Says Prof Dr Rob Moodie: “I’m not actually against the private sector at all. This discussion is just about the unhealthy parts.”

The professor of public health at both the University of Melbourne and the University of Malawi notes that based on his observations of the past decade in Australia, the tobacco, junk food, sugary drinks and alcohol industries have “on every possible occasion, have done everything they can to undermine any effective public health legislation”.

“So, the notion of their repetitive mantra, ‘We are part of the solution’, is completely wrong,” he says.

During the World Cancer Congress 2018 session on Addressing the Commercial Determinants of Cancer and NCDs, Prof Moodie shared the top seven tactics those industries use to undermine public health policies.

One is by attacking legitimate science by calling it junk or bad science.

“One thing they do is focussing on the inherent uncertainty of science.

“Science is legitimately uncertain – that’s the way science works, it’s by constantly putting forth hypotheses and challenging them.

“So, they build on this and they undermine it as well as they can,” he explains.

Related to this is the tactic of “manufacturing false debate, insisting on balance and always creating the impression of a controversy”.

One way of doing this, according to Prof Moodie, is to insist that reasonable journalists cover both sides of the argument equally.

“It’s a bit like saying, yes, we need to spend as much time discussing why tobacco doesn’t cause cancer as why it does – it’s just absurd.

“It’s the same notion that even though 97% of climate change scientists believe that climate change is anthropogenic (caused by man-made activity), we still need to devote 50% of every discussion to arguments against them,” he says.

Prof Dr Rob Moodie, alcohol, tobacco, sugary drinks, junk food, cancer, non-communicable diseases, World Cancer Congress 2018, Star2.com

Prof Moodie, who previously headed Australias National Preventative Health Taskforce, notes that public health advocates need to know how industry does business in order to counter their influence. — UICC

Another way is to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects that divert attention from the effects of their products, e.g. sugary beverage producers promoting physical activity to stay healthy (rather than decreasing sugary drinks and food).

“They’re also framing issues more inventively than we are,” he says.

For example, admitting that there is a problem, but it’s less severe than what everyone says; admitting there’s a serious problem, but not a life-threatening one; arguing that the problem is less severe than other problems, which should take priority instead; and arguing that the cost to solve the problem is too high.

Another tactic is to create “arms-length front organisations” in order to set out a narrative that is favourable to them, e.g. the Foundation for A Smoke-Free World, which is funded by Philip Morris, and the International Life Sciences Institute, whose members are primarily food and beverage, agricultural, chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

Related to this tactic is the funding of disinformation campaigns, usually led by celebrities and/or experts in the field.

Another target of funding is, of course, politicians and lobbyists, in order to influence the political and legislative agenda in various countries.

Alongside this, the industries also attack and intimidate legitimate scientists whose work affects them negatively.

Examples Prof Moodie gave include Prof Dr Lisa Bero from the University of Sydney’s School of Pharmacy in Australia, Prof Dr Melanie Wakefield who is the director of Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer in Australia, and Dr Abdillah Ahsan from the University of Indonesia’s Demographic Institute.

The former two have been targeted by the beverage industry, while the latter, the tobacco industry.

“It will never be an even playing field, but we need to know the way they are doing business, so that we can understand and start to turn things around,” concludes Prof Moodie.

Structuring a soda tax

At the same session, World Cancer Research Fund International senior policy and public affairs manager Bryony Sinclair and IOGT International international vice-president Pubudu Sumanasekera both offered some tips on how to counter such industry tactics.

Sinclair shared the lessons learnt from trying to introduce taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages in various countries around the world.

The first is to be prepared with the scientific evidence backing up the necessity and effectiveness of the tax.

She notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) has included the tax as an effective intervention, while there are also evaluation reports on its efficacy from countries that have already implemented it, like Mexico and Chile.

The second is to carefully consider the local context in relation to implementing the tax.

“It’s really important to have a thorough understanding of the context of the country, the tax system and the needs of the public before starting.

“And that’s especially key in understanding how to frame the tax. If it’s framed improperly, it’s not likely to go very far,” she says.

Sinclair shares that there are three ways of framing the tax, as seen from efforts around the world: from a health perspective, from an economic perspective, and a combination of both.

Taking time to be strategic and to design the tax carefully is also important, she says, in order to withstand opposition.

She notes that the five key questions that need to be answered in designing the tax are:

• What types of products are going to be taxed?

• What type of tax is going to be used?

• How high should the tax be?

• Who should the tax be levied on?

• Should it be a general tax or an earmarked tax?

The fourth lesson is to develop a broad base of support, ranging from academia to civil society and civil servants in the various ministries involved, as well as local champions like a politician passionate about the tax and philanthropic funding to help spread the message about the importance of the tax.

“Fifth, scrutinise the tax design. Industry is definitely going to be trying to tear the tax apart, so try to look at it from the industry’s perspective and understand what the potential loopholes would be.

“And of course, prepare for pushback – experience tells us there will be pushback, so we need to be ready for it,” she says.

Increasing alcohol awareness

Meanwhile, Pubudu shared strategies to counter the alcohol industry.

First is to increase awareness on the real effects of alcohol, e.g. alcohol consumption increases the risk of seven cancers: mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, liver and bowel.

Alcohol, cancer, non-communicable diseases, World Cancer Congress 2018, Star2.com

Pubudu says that it is important to increase public awareness of the negative effects of alcohol, including increasing the risk of seven types of cancer. — AFP

“And we have to expose their marketing strategies, regionally, country-wise and on the global level.

“If you are not working on the global level, please do it in your country – study the alcohol industry in your country and what are their unethical business practices there,” he says.

He adds that working with politicians and policymakers is also very important.

“We should understand the language they understand. Sometimes, academic research and studies may not interest them, you need something (different).”

Media is another important component in the push against the alcohol industry.

The Sri Lankan native says: “I know, in my country and some of the other countries in my region, how the alcohol industry places their people in media stations – electronic and print media both.

“And now, they have people working around the clock on social media to put things positive to them.”

This is why it is important to have independent science. “Then we have to amplify it, support it and we have to translate it into our local languages.”

He adds: “And the general public is our ultimate tool. So that is where we can actually get politicians to listen, and sometimes, the media to listen too.”

Giving the example of a media workshop on alcohol conducted by himself and academics from the field of economics and health in Colombo, Pubudu says: “They were shocked after the presentation.

“They said that ‘We haven’t heard about this before, because we’re always getting information from the industry’.”

Another example is when they mobilised young Sri Lankans to remove tobacco ads on billboards around the country. “That is the public pressure and the power.”

The World Cancer Congress was held in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 1-4, 2018, for the first time in South-East Asia.

Here’s what happens to your mind and body when you stop drinking alcohol, according to a doctor

Here’s what happens to your mind and body when you stop drinking alcohol, according to a doctor

Some people go sober for October.

Some people go sober for October.
  • In October, some people have decided to give up alcohol for 31 days.
  • It’s called Sober for October, and it could have some positive impacts on your mind and body.
  • Your sleep might improve, and you might feel healthier overall.
  • But you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you’re a heavy drinker.

Following a global report this year that there is no safe amount of alcohol, more people may be trying to cut back on booze. This month, many people are giving up alcohol for 31 days, in a campaign called Sober for October.

Fiona Sim, a former GP and medical advisor to Drinkaware, told The Evening Standard giving up alcohol for a month can have some noticeable impacts on your health and body.

For instance, your blood pressure might reduce, and your sleep pattern and quality may improve.

“Your liver will be helped too but how much will depend on how much damage has already been done due to alcohol,” she said.

man drinking at bar

Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

Also, the immediate positive effects may not be obvious for a very heavy drinker, as they may experience withdrawal symptoms like shaking, headaches, and nausea.

“If this is the case, you would probably find it better to cut down more slowly and steadily until you reach the low risk drinking guidelines or stop completely,” Sim said.

When trying Dry January one year, I found it completely messed with my sleeping pattern, despite being told the opposite would happen. Health experts I spoke to told me this could be a sign of withdrawal. Apparently, if your body is used to being put into a relaxed state by alcohol, it may struggle to get to that state for a while without being medicated.

The following year, I found I craved sugary food. Studies have shown sugar may actually be addictive, and the idea I could be making my body dependent on things that are bad for me put my drinking habits into perspective.

Despite the body sometimes taking a while to adjust, Sim said giving up alcohol for a while can be good for your mental health.

guys drinking beer

Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

Alcohol is a depressant. So although you may feel good when you get the initial buzz, in the long term, it probably won’t make you feel great. Sim said it has also been linked with self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and memory impairment.

“After a heavy drinking session, you may not remember anything about the night before, but with long term drinking, that memory loss can be more serious,” she said.

“When you stop drinking, your risks are reduced but if the damage has already been done to your brain cells, not all the harm can be reversed.”

Any confidence alcohol gives you also probably won’t last long. Alcohol isn’t the aphrodisiac some people think it is, often reducing sensitivity meaning you enjoy sex less, Sim said.

“For both men and women, alcohol can reduce fertility, so particularly if you are both heavy drinkers, it may be more difficult to conceive,” she added.

“As far as relationships are concerned, drinking heavily can lead to bad mood swings and aggression, an important catalyst for domestic violence. So all in all, going sober has a lot to commend it in the realms of significant relationships.”

Other benefits of going sober for a while include better skin, decreased risk of obesity and certain cancers, fewer migraines, and the fact you can save money (potentially).

There’s also something to be said about waking up after seeing friends, and not worrying about anything that was said or done the night before.

When we drink heavily our brains miss out on the part of sleep that helps us process guilt – called REM sleep. So we’re more likely to wake up with “alcohol guilt” or the “beer fear.”

For whatever reason you’re considering going sober for a while, there are plenty of benefits you might see, both for yourself and those around you.

Gwyneth Paltrow said she drinks Japanese whisky in the bath every night — here’s why that might be a bad idea

Gwyneth Paltrow said she drinks Japanese whisky in the bath every night — here’s why that might be a bad idea

Gwyneth Paltrow is a 'seven-days-a-week drinker.'

Gwyneth Paltrow is a ‘seven-days-a-week drinker.’
Emma McIntyre / Getty
  • Gwyneth Paltrow told the Evening Standard she drinks every day of the week.
  • Her drink of choice is Japanese whisky, which she enjoys in the bath.
  • A few studies show apparent benefits of drinking in moderation.
  • But according to a large analysis recently published in the Lancet, there is no safe amount of alcohol.
  • The potential benefits of alcohol are not well understood yet, but what is clear is that drinking in excess can cause many health issues.

The dangers of alcohol are well documented. People are recommended to avoid drinking more than 14 units a week, and to have at least a few days out of seven going alcohol free.

In the short term, drinking heavily can increase your risk of accidents, and in the long term, it is linked with liver disease, pancreatitis, and several different cancers. But a few studies in recent years have shown apparent benefits of drinking in moderation, such as a reduced risk of stroke, or diabetes.

Gwyneth Paltrow may be one of the people who seeks such benefits. According to the Evening Standard, she is a “seven-days-a-week drinker,” because she always likes “to have a little something.”

Her tipple of choice is apparently Japanese whisky, which she drinks in the bath.

The Guardian reports that Japanese whisky has been shown to have high levels of the antioxidant ellagic acid. This could mean it helps protect the body against inflammation and cancers – but the evidence is limited. Also, these sorts of compounds are absorbed faster by the body when they come from whisky, rather than wine. But it’s unclear whether they actually have any medicinal effects.

Despite studies claiming drinking moderately may be the key to a longer life, may increase male fertility, and even make you call in to work sick less, government guidelines do not recommend drinking for the sake of any health benefits.

In fact, recent research, published in the Lancet, concluded there is no safe amount of alcohol. And even one extra glass of wine a week, according to another study, could shorten your life by 30 minutes.

As for whether Paltrow has her full glass of Japanese whisky for the potential health benefits, or she simply just likes the taste, who knows. But if you’re thinking of adding an extra night cap to your own daily routine, evidence suggests this might do you more harm than good.

Sorry, drinkers, there is no safe level of alcohol

Sorry, drinkers, there is no safe level of alcohol

IF you were thinking of meeting up with friends after work for happy hour, think again.

A new global study from the British journal The Lancet found that the safest level of drinking was none.

Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

The study, published in August 2018, analysed data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease report to determine levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries for males and females ages 15 to 49 between 1990 to 2016.

Researchers found alcohol use was the leading risk factor for death and disability, and accounted for nearly 10% of annual global deaths – about 2.8 million annually.

It accounted for about 3% of deaths in women and 12% of deaths in men.

“This study is extremely important because it sheds light on the dangerous impact of alcohol – which is greatly minimised in our culture,” said Joseph Garbely, vice-president of medical services and medical director at Caron Treatment Centers in the United States.

“We’re in the midst of a raging opioid epidemic, and yet, the majority of our patients seek treatment for alcohol use disorders. Make no mistake – alcohol can be deadly and will affect your health over time.”

The study, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, contradicts other health guidelines – which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day – saying any benefits were offset by the risks of developing 23 other alcohol-related diseases, specifically cancers or dying from alcohol-related accidents.

Moderation is defined as up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger, according to the Mayo Clinic.

One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.1 ounces of 80 proof spirits.

Based on the results, the researchers recommend that public health campaigns revise their message to include alcohol abstinence and focus on reducing overall drinking. – The Philadelphia Inquirer/Tribune News Service

When it comes to alcohol, take the middle road

When it comes to alcohol, take the middle road

Genetics, head injury and poor nutrition have all been linked to dementia. Scientists are now adding both heavy drinking and abstaining from alcohol to the list, according to a new report.

Researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research based in France and the United Kingdom recently conducted a study, published in the British Medical Journal, to determine the relationship between midlife alcohol consumption and risk of dementia into early old age.

To do so, they observed more than 9,000 people, aged 35 to 55, taking part in the Whitehall II Study, which is examining the impact of social, behavioural and biological factors on long-term health.

The analysts assessed their alcohol consumption and dependence over the course of several years.

They then collected hospital records to review the number of participants hospitalised for alcohol-related chronic diseases and cases of dementia.

After analysing the results, they found both abstinence in midlife and drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week were both associated with higher risk of dementia, compared to just drinking one to 14 units weekly.

In fact, they discovered that heavy drinkers who up their consumption by seven units a week may have a 17% increase in dementia risk.

In the UK, 14 units of alcohol weekly is the recommended maximum limit, and a unit is approximately 8 grams of alcohol. A standard glass of wine is about 2 units of alcohol and a beer is about 1.75 units.

“(Our findings) strengthen the evidence that excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor for dementia,” the authors said in a statement.

“(We) encourage use of lower thresholds of alcohol consumption in guidelines to promote cognitive health at older ages.”

They also added their results “should not motivate people who do not drink to start drinking, given the known detrimental effects of alcohol consumption for mortality, neuropsychiatric disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer.”

They now hope for more studies that further explore the effects of light to moderate alcohol in relation to the memory loss condition. – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Tribune News Service

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