Lessons from Tobacco

Déjà vu?

The alcohol industry uses a playbook similar to the tobacco industry’s

When it comes to marketing, selling its products and blocking regulation, the alcohol industry has borrowed directly from tobacco’s playbook. [25, 26] One reason for this is that there is an overlap among these industries. Altria, one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, and SABMiller, a multinational beer company, have shared board members and directors over the years. Altria also has a 10.2 percent interest in Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer company. [75-77]  

Among the tactics used by both industries:

  • Devising sophisticated billion-dollar marketing budgets, often geared toward youth; [15, 29]
  • Promoting self-regulatory systems, voluntary codes and industry labeling regimes in order to head off legal regulation; [29]
  • Targeting vulnerable populations in developing countries, where legal policies to control use are often lacking;
  • Funding and publishing pseudo and junk science;
  • Using front groups and trade associations to make their arguments for them;
  • Employing huge lobbying operations and budgets to prevent, derail and undermine sound regulation and policy; and
  • Using corporate social responsibility to win favor, encourage goodwill and discourage legal policy. [78]

Some tobacco-control strategies work for alcohol too. If the alcohol industry can learn from the tobacco industry, alcohol policy advocates can learn from tobacco-control strategies too.

Specific tobacco-control policies that work for alcohol as well include: 

  • Tax increases
  • Raising the purchase age
  • Placing bans or restrictions on marketing—advertisements, promotions and sponsorships
  • Regulating availability
  • Insisting on clear warning labels

Trade issues

The tobacco industry has used international trade law and courts to fight against hard-won tobacco marketing restrictions such as graphic cigarette pack warnings. The strategy has tied up effective policies in courts from Australia to Uruguay, at grave economic and health cost. One way to avoid costly and lengthy legal challenges is to work with trade officials and legal experts when creating policies, to ensure that any alcohol regulations will be able to stand up in court. [79]