Conflict of Interest

Would you trust a study about the benefits of soda funded by The Coca-Cola Company?

Probably not.

So when the National Institutes of Health ordered the halt of a $100 million, 10-year study of moderate drinking in mid-May, prevention groups – including Texans Standing Tall – applauded the move.

That’s because the controversial study was being funded in large part by the alcoholic beverage industry—Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken, and other industry giants were giving donations to a private foundation that supports the NIH. Roughly two-thirds of the funding for the study was coming from liquor and beer companies.

According to the NIH Director himself, “This particular study was set up in such a way that the funding is largely coming from the beverage industry and there is evidence that NIH employees assisted in recruiting those funds for this study in a way that would violate our usual policies.”

The New York Times reported that the study was being billed as the kind that “could change the American diet, a huge clinical trial that might well deliver all the medical evidence needed to recommend a daily alcoholic drink as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

The problem is that the people being billed – liquor company representatives – had a heavily vested interest in the outcome of the study.

We all stand to lose since results skewed in the industry’s favor would likely promote and encourage unhealthy drinking behaviors. Ultimately, this would negatively affect individuals’ health and public health.

The potential damage a study like this could have on prevention is tremendous. For decades, prevention organizations have been working at the forefront to reduce excessive alcohol use and counter the increasing normalization of consumption – especially among young people. In recent years, we’ve had to work overtime to combat the rise in marketing and promotion by the alcohol industry, which has slowly convinced us that alcohol consumption is good for our health.

A study like this one would make it more challenging to debunk these dangerous myths, reversing decades of important work in prevention, awareness, and education. Critics also worry the research would not fully capture the harms and risks associated with drinking. Another concern? No other long-term trial “had ever asked participants to drink, much less drink every day.” With existing research showing that drinking daily can have negative health effects, this study seems ill-conceived and potentially dangerous. (Keep in mind, this was a long-term study that was supposed to include about 7,000 people drinking daily over the course of several years.)

Because the study has only been suspended, there is still a possibility it will resume. But critics and advocacy groups have been vocal about the importance of stopping this study for good, and there is pressure on the NIH to distance itself from the alcohol industry after the perceived “cozying up to Big Alcohol.”

In the meantime, we will continue to monitor any news relating to the NIH study and continue working with prevention groups across Texas to dispel myths, educate the public, and reduce underage alcohol use to help create healthier, safer communities.

Want to support our efforts? You can follow us on social media, join your local coalition, make a one-time or recurring financial gift to fund our work, or contact us to learn more and get involved!

Reflections from AP18

 

In April,  several Texans Standing Tall staff members attended the 2018 Alcohol Policy Conference (AP18) in Arlington, VA.

The conference is convened by the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance and brings together professionals in support of effective alcohol policy research and practice to tackle the enormous alcohol-related harm affecting our communities on a global scale. Texans Standing Tall is proud to have participated in the event by serving on the planning committee and as a sponsor, providing staff volunteers, and presenting during several sessions over the course of the week. (Scroll down for photos!)

We could write a novel filled with all of the great information discussed and disseminated at AP18, but some of the major highlights from the week include:

  • Multiple sessions with updated information on the link between alcohol and cancer, where we learned more about national and international efforts to educate the public on the issue. Currently, in the U.S., there is lack of public awareness regarding the connection between the two – only 30% of Americans identify alcohol as a risk factor for cancer. Moving forward, it will be critically important for prevention advocates to inform the public of the increased risk and address claims about the positive health benefits of alcohol consumption.
  • Ongoing conversations about the ways in which alcohol advertising influences youth alcohol use. In addition to studies examining the marketing practices the alcohol industry employs to target young people, we also learned about new tools like the Alcohol Marketing Assessment Rating Tool (AMART) that researchers have developed to quickly asses how well the alcohol industry is actually sticking to their self-regulated marketing codes. As advocates, we must continue to vigilantly monitor the alcohol industry’s advertising practices and hold them accountable when they market adult products to our youth.
  • A presentation on the CDC’s new guide to help measure and regulate alcohol outlet density to prevent excessive drinking and improve public health. We also heard about a new study from the Prevention Research Center of PIRE that explores the relationship between community problems and outlets that sell alcohol for off-premise consumption. It became even more clear that communities must work to identify and collect data (like place of last drink and crime levels near outlets) that help illustrate the issues associated with the number of outlets in a given area.
  • Learning inspiring lessons from advocates who worked tirelessly to get alcohol sales shut down in Whiteclay, Nebraska– an unincorporated town with less than 12 residents, but four beers stores that supplied more than 3.5 million cans of beer annually to residents of the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. For years, the community fought to close the stores, all the while experiencing high addiction rates and a number of devastating health outcomes like infant mortality, teen suicide, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Finally, on April 30, 2017, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s decision to deny the stores’ re-licensure applications went into effect. The story of Whiteclay is a good reminder that the road to victory can be long and challenging, but the power and persistence of people’s voices is undeniable.

The gathering of so many individuals committed to translating sound public policy into public health practice was inspiring. Texans Standing Tall staff members returned from AP18 with a renewed commitment to our prevention work across the state.

Here are just a few of the things staff had to say about their time at AP18:

“To be surrounded by such passionate individuals who share a common vision of a world free from alcohol-related death, disease, and injury – there is nothing else like it. It was an honor to attend a conference where so many of the people whose work I have been reading and learning about for years were in attendance. I’m grateful for their dedication and the positive impact they have on the world.” — Sachin Kamble, Peer Policy Fellow

“It was fascinating to see and hear from prevention super stars at AP18.  It was a passionate group of professionals coming together to inspire and strategize on how to shape alcohol policy.  I was proud to be a part of it.” — Tammy Peck, Higher Education Prevention Specialist

“I had the opportunity to attend the Advocacy Institute, which was conducted in conjunction with AP18. During one session, a nonprofit attorney, provided information about how nonprofits can work on public policy issues without threatening their tax exemption status. There was so much important information for those of us working in the public policy realm. I’m excited to put this information into action as we begin to tackle marijuana legalization efforts in Texas.” — Kaleigh Becker, Program and Research Specialist

 “Attending AP18 was a great opportunity to learn from leading experts in the field of alcohol prevention who were sharing new data that empowers individuals and coalitions to be the champions for change in their own communities across the world.” — Anne-Shirley Schreiner, Strategy Specialist

The AP conference truly is a great way to learn more about the latest data and most pressing issues related to alcohol research and policy in the United States and around the world. To learn more about it, visit alcoholpolicyconference.org and set your calendars for the next one in April 2020!

TST staff headed to AP18
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed TST staff ready for a full day of learning
Kaleigh Becker, TST’s Research & Program Specialist, sharing information about the Coalitions Project during her poster session
Tammy Peck, TST’s Higher Education Prevention Specialist, during her poster session on Screening & Brief Intervention
TST CEO Nicole Holt giving a presentation on Social Ordinances in Texas
YLC Co-Chair Katy Turner answering an audience question during a presentation about youth engagement with fellow YLC Co-Chair Andrea Marquez and TST’s Georgianne Crowell and Atalie Nitibhon
TST staff exploring the nation’s capital

Think Before You Pink

Beverly Canin during her luncheon keynote presentation. 

Beverly Canin is first and foremost a patient advocate; she is also a breast cancer survivor.

She led our Summit lunch plenary, speaking about the correlation between alcohol and cancer—specifically female breast cancer.

We know alcohol may increase the risk of breast cancer by damaging DNA in cells, and that alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer. Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three drinks per week have a 15% greater risk of breast cancer. Canin shared these and other startling statistics with our audience at the 2018 Statewide Summit.

She also explained the term “pinkwashing,” which was coined by the organization Breast Cancer Action, where Canin sits on the board of directors.  Pinkwashing occurs when a company or organization promotes a pink ribbon product and appears to support breast cancer research or awareness, but at the same time produces, manufactures, or sells products that are linked to the disease. The alcohol industry has been guilty of pinkwashing, and Canin said it’s important for consumers to do their research and advocate against the practice. One of the more extreme examples of this practice is cancer-related organizations who promote events and fundraisers that often include alcohol, or are sponsored by alcohol companies.

Canin herself was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, and she quickly became aware of the importance of cancer advocacy because so much conflicting information made it difficult to make sense of it all. Through her advocacy, she also became increasingly aware of the link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption.

At Texans Standing Tall, we work to stay up to date and share news and information about the increased risk associated with breast cancer and alcohol. It was meaningful to have an opportunity to hear from a survivor who has excelled at researching the link between breast cancer and alcohol, as well as advocating for herself and for others.

Drinking Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk

Alcohol is a “definitive” risk factor for cancer, according to a statement released this month by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). 

According to ASCO, minimizing excessive exposure of alcohol has important implications for cancer prevention. In its statement, ASCO noted that alcohol consumption is causally associated with oropharyngeal (throat) and laryngeal (voicebox) cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. However, alcohol may also be a risk factor for other cancers, including pancreatic and stomach cancers.

Researchers looked at several studies that found a strong correlation between alcohol and cancer.  They concluded that 3.5% of all cancer-related deaths were due to alcohol consumption.  They further concluded that in 2012, 5.5% of new cancer occurrences and 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide were attributable to alcohol consumption.

“The importance of alcohol drinking as a contributing factor to the overall cancer burden is often underappreciated,” the organization said in its statement. “Associations between alcohol drinking and cancer risk have been observed consistently regardless of the specific type of alcoholic beverages.”

Another recent study shows that teens aged 14-17 are less likely to drink if they know about the link between alcohol and cancer. Unfortunately, most aren’t actually aware of the connection. To help create healthier, safter communities, Texans Standing Tall believes its especially important to share this new research so young people gain a better understanding of the consequences of alcohol consumption.