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Health researchers call for alcohol industry to prove no harm in funding of sports

Researchers from Australia and the UK are calling for a new approach to the debate over whether alcohol industry sponsorship of sports increases drinking among sports participants. They want to shift the burden of proof to the alcohol industry.

Dag Endal

In an editorial published in the journal Addiction, researchers say that the alcohol industry should be required to prove that industry sponsorship of sports does not cause unhealthy alcohol use among adults or encourage children to drink. They argue that “it should not be left to the public to demonstrate that alcohol industry sponsorship is harmful but rather, it should be up to the proponents of the activity, i.e., the alcohol industry, to show that the practice is harmless.”

Lead author Dr Kypros Kypri said that the position taken by the drinks industry is reminiscent of that taken by the tobacco companies, which until the 1990s doggedly denied that there was proof of a causal association between smoking and lung cancer. Until the industry has proved lack of harm, governments should prohibit alcohol industry sponsorship of sports.

See a summary of the article in a press release here.

Read the article in Addiction here.

The authors refer to the fact that unhealthy alcohol use, and in particular youth binge drinking, is described as a significant, persistent problem in many countries. “In the face of such problems we should consider the full range of possible countermeasures, primarily those underpinned by strong research evidence, but also those which are yet to be subject to extensive study.

With regard to the latter, we agree with Babor et al. that where evidence is lacking, policy makers should adopt the precautionary principle which recommends, among other things, taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty and shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of the activity. For alcohol, as for tobacco, sponsorship of sport enables companies to promote their products to vast audiences of all ages, with few if any substantial constraints and all the benefits of association with healthy activities and sporting heroes.”