Home > Alcohol industry involvement in policymaking: a systematic review.

O'Dwyer, Claire (2019) Alcohol industry involvement in policymaking: a systematic review. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 70, Summer 2019, p. 10.

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Research indicates that the most effective alcohol policies are those that regulate the actions of the alcohol industry, including reducing the affordability of alcohol and decreasing its availability.1 However, national alcohol policies have tended to favour policies that allow the alcohol industry scope for self-regulation and promote non-regulatory measures. This may reflect the influence of the alcohol industry in defining the scope and content of alcohol policy debate. A recent systematic review2 published in the journal Addiction investigated the role of the alcohol industry in policymaking and the ways in which the industry attempts to influence this process. 


The authors searched for peer-reviewed studies published between 1980 and 2016. A total of 15 unique studies published in 20 articles were included in the review. The majority of these studies were carried out in high-income, English-speaking countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The remaining studies were carried out in Africa, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Poland. The studies were primarily qualitative and a thematic approach was used to synthesise the findings. 

Main findings

The authors found that the alcohol industry had a ‘pervasive influence’ on policymaking across all countries and all policy contexts. They identified two ways through which the alcohol industry sought to influence policy. The first was framing the policy debates in a clear and convincing manner that was protective of commercial interests. The second was influencing policy activities to manage potential threats to industry interests through the use of short-term and long-term lobbying strategies. 

  1. Framing the debate

Strategically, alcohol industry actors placed themselves as key partners to the government in developing and implementing alcohol policy. This legitimised their position at the table, giving them scope to shape the content and nature of the policy debate. They used this position to steer policy discussion away from policies that would restrict the industry’s ability to price, advertise, and brand their products.

Industry actors attempted to shift the responsibility of alcohol consumption and related harms away from alcohol and the alcohol industry and towards the individual consumer. This allowed them to advocate for a policy response that would target a minority of heavy alcohol users. Industry actors were found to advocate for ‘partnership’ approaches, such as industry-led education and targeting smaller subpopulations of high-risk drinkers. The authors reported that industry actors were found to use misleading claims about the effectiveness of their proposed interventions and to question the unintended consequences of population-based strategies as well as its evidence base. In this way, alcohol industry actors can be seen to be making strong rhetorical commitments to evidence-based policy while protecting their own commercial interests. 

  1. Influencing activities

Across all of the studies, alcohol industry representatives sought to be involved in every aspect of the policymaking process, including public consultations, parliamentary committees, and working groups. They engaged in both short-term and long-term lobbying tactics. Long-term lobbying strategies included sustained efforts to build close and lasting relationships with key policymakers through frequent contact and other forms of engagement. This normalises the involvement of industry actors in policy processes, helps keep any issues that would be contrary to commercial interests off policy agenda, and provides a basis for reactive lobbying in response to specific policy debates or issues that may arise. Alcohol industry actors were also found to use third parties from outside the industry to engage policymakers. This includes funding think tanks or academics to carry out or disseminate policy-relevant research with supportive findings, creating a separate body of literature that could be referenced to support their policy positions. 


This systematic review demonstrates that alcohol industry actors are strategically involved in policymaking to advance their own commercial interests. The authors note that industry actors can make ‘intuitively plausible, and highly nuanced, arguments that can appear compelling if they are allowed to go unchallenged’ (p. 1574).2


1    Babor TF, Caetano R, Casswell S, Edwards G, Giesbrecht N, Graham K, et al. (2010) Alcohol: no ordinary commodity – research and public policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2    McCambridge J, Mialon M and Hawkins B (2018) Alcohol industry involvement in policymaking: a systematic review. Addiction, 113(9): 1571–84. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/30180/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 70, Summer 2019
September 2019
Page Range
p. 10
Health Research Board
Issue 70, Summer 2019

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