The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies: An evidence review

The distribution of drinkers in England. Credit

This review was commissioned by the Department of Health of England, which asked Public Health England (PHE) to provide an overview of alcohol-related harm in England and possible policy solutions. The report offers a broad and rigorous summary of the types and prevalence of alcohol-related harm, and evidence for the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of alcohol control policies. Effectiveness is defined as the degree to which an intervention reduces the public health burden (health, social, and economic) of alcohol. The findings are interpreted within the English context and will be relevant to academics and researchers, public health professionals and policymakers in the health and non-health sectors. The review provides national and local policy makers with the latest evidence to identify those policies which will best prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm. It covers the following areas: taxation and price regulation, regulating marketing, regulating availability, providing information and education, managing the drinking environment, reducing drink-driving, and brief interventions and treatment.

New Report Exposes “Patient Advocacy” Groups as a Big Pharma Scam

“Patient advocacy” groups have a unique power on Capitol Hill, writes David Dayen in The Intercept.  They claim to represent the true voice of constituents, untainted by special interest bias. Politicians and the Food and Drug Administration use their endorsements as reflective of genuine public support. But a new study shows that nearly all of these patient advocacy groups are captured by the drug industry. David Hilzenrath at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reports that at least 39 of 42 patient advocacy groups who participated in discussions with the FDA over agency review processes for prescription drugs received funding from pharmaceutical companies. And at least 15 have representatives of drug or biotechnology companies on their governing boards. The study is particularly notable now because Congress is poised to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which trades temporary additional funding for the National Institutes of Health and the FDA for permanent weakening of the FDA’s approval process. Over 1,400 lobbyists have been working on this bill, which would be a major financial boon to the drug and medical device industries.

The Absurd, Illegal Logic Behind Trump’s ‘Two for One’ Regulation Proposal

The president-elect recently described in a YouTube video what he intends to do on his very first day in office, writes Ken Kimmell on InsideSources.  Among other things, he will issue a new command to all federal agencies: “If you want to issue a new regulation, you must repeal two existing ones.”  So, for example, if the Environmental Protection Agency wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury pollution from power plants, it would need to cut two existing rules, such as reducing lead in drinking water or requiring school buses to cut smog-causing emissions. Or if the Consumer Product Safety Commission wants to protect families from dangerous car seats for children, the commission would need to drop rules such as requiring better labeling of age appropriate toys, or reducing toxic substances in baby products.  As these examples illustrate, the idea is absurd. Agencies issue multiple regulations because there are multiple threats to public health, safety and the environment. Each regulation must be judged on its own merits. If a new regulation is warranted, it should be issued. If an existing regulation is outdated or no longer effective, it should be changed. One shouldn’t be held hostage for the other.

Nutritionism, Big Food and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition

In response to growing pressure from eaters who want healthier food, governments that want to take action to protect public health and reduce the costs of diet-related diseases,  and competitive markets that jeopardize profits, global big food companies have launched a multi-pronged campaign to protect their interests.  One element of this campaign is to use nutrition science to justify its actions, a process that some have called “nutritionism”. Nutritionism provides a halo for corporations, legitimizes existing and growing markets for highly processed foods, and helps to preempt and deter direct government regulation.  Three key strategies food companies use to practice nutritionism are fortification, reformulation, and functionalization.  In a talk at the City University of New York School of Public Health entitled “Nutritionism, Big Food and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition”, Gyorgy Scrinis, Senior Lecturer in Food Politics and Policy at the University of Melbourne, analyzed how corporations use nutrition and nutritonism to advance their business interests. Gyorgy is also the author of Nutritonism The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice (Columbia University Press, 2013.) View the presentation.

Read a related article: Scinis, G. Reformulation, fortification and functionalization: Big Food corporations’ nutritional engineering and marketing strategies, The Journal of Peasant Studies 2016; 43 (1):17-37.

UK court rejects tobacco companies’ appeal on plain packaging

A UK court has dismissed an appeal brought by some of Britain’s largest tobacco companies over the government’s new plain packaging rules, reports Reuters.  In the decision, the court dismissed all appeals brought by British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, Imperial Brands and several paper manufacturers. The companies argued that the law, which went into effect in May, unlawfully deprives them of their intellectual property by banning the use of all marketing on packages, including logos, colors and special fonts. “This is a victory for public health and another crushing defeat for the tobacco industry,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health.

Why the Tobacco Lobby Doesn’t Provide a Blueprint to Defeat the Gun Lobby

The uptick in mass shootings over the past few years has led to widespread calls for gun reform and the defeat of pro-gun lobbyist groups opposing it. Since the gun lobby currently employs many of the same tactics used by the powerful tobacco lobby, some have reasoned that the same blueprint used to weaken the big tobacco lobby could work for guns. Though the two lobbying groups—tobacco and guns—use similar strategies, the issues they represent are fundamentally different and require different game plans to defeat. An article in The Harvard Political Review, a journal published by Harvard undergraduates, explains the rationale for taking different approaches.

Engaging Young People in Countermarketing Unhealthy Food: The Youth Food Educators Toolkit

Image from YOFE Countermarketing Campaign

This guide provides resources and lessons plans for youth organizations, food groups, schools and health departments that want to engage young people in taking action to reduce the demand for unhealthy food. Based on two years’ experience of the Youth Food Educators (YOFE) Program, a project of the City University of New York Urban Food Policy Institute, the guide summarizes what has been learned from these experiences. More than two decades of tobacco control have shown that countermarketing is effective in reducing youth smoking rates.  Countermarketing describes health communications strategies designed to reduce the demand for unhealthy products by exposing the motives of their producers and portraying their marketing activities as outside the boundaries of civilized corporate behavior.  This guide describes how young people can use this strategy to reduce the demand for processed food products high in sugar, unhealthy fats and salt.

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health