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Comment - Health Lobby Clouds Alcohol Issue with Cancer Ad

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Some years ago I was told that the health lobbyists who had helped deliver England and Wales' smoking ban had switched their attention to scoring a similar 'victory' on alcohol. 

The tactics used to challenge attitudes on smoking could be used in the same way on drinking was the idea. 

And so it has come to pass. 

A frankly shocking ad warning of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer has today (23 April) escaped sanction from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The nature of the ad, which can be viewed here, was branded as “scaremongering” by the complainants to the ASA. And I'd have to agree.

The film shows a man sipping a beer containing a tumour. It's completely over the top. He's even preparing some food at the same time, rather than being shown in a heavy-drinking situation. 

A voice-over states: "Like tobacco and asbestos, it (alcohol) can cause cancer." 

As the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), one of the complainants, argued, the risk from cancer for moderate drinkers is low. And alcohol drunk in moderation can be beneficial to overall health. Perfectly valid points that are not reflected by the ad. Beer is also a strange choice of drink to illustrate the point, bearing in mind the low abv of an average brew. 

Put simply, alcohol is not tobacco. 

The BBPA issued a strongly-worded statement voicing its disappointment at the decision. 

But Balance, the alcohol awareness group funded by councils in the North East of England that commissoned the ad, could not contain its glee. “We are delighted at the ASA’s decision - this is a real victory for the health community,” said the group's director Colin Shevills. 

He added: “Sections of the alcohol industry have tried to prevent us providing health messages to the public, which is highly irresponsible. It also shows an industry which is putting profits before health and wellbeing - similar tactics to those that were employed by the tobacco industry.” 

Sadly, it seems that Heineken chief Jean-François van Boxmeer's call last month for the health lobby to drop their mistrust of the drinks industry has fallen on deaf ears


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