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“Doctors are stalwart drinkers,” says Richards, calling on doctors to do more to tackle alcohol abuse.1 Doctors are also stalwart investors and must begin to use their financial clout as shareholders to remove alcohol from their portfolios.
Last autumn, the multinational drinks industry used its political, business, and financial lobbying muscle to subvert the European Commission's attempts to bring forward an alcohol strategy based on public health principles.2 In the past, the public health agenda has relied solely on evidence to effect political change. This worked when elected politicians had a stronger influence on society. The business corporations have now become bigger players where the measure of success is profit. Health policy has to accommodate to this change and will have to engage shareholders directly to get them to avoid alcohol at both manufacturing and the sometimes forgotten retailing levels.
Leadership is required from doctors, who are often the first witnesses of alcohol related harm. This can be exercised by refusing to hold shares in alcohol companies and by instructing fund managers to set up and seek non-alcohol based portfolios. It is time to include the manufacture and importantly the sale of alcohol as an unworthy and unethical way of making money for the individual investor. Most doctors would not knowingly invest in tobacco companies, and, although no level of tobacco use is safe, alcohol is no ordinary commodity either3 and even small amounts can cause catastrophic harm.
Advocacy budgets will never come remotely near industry budgets, but doctors interested in the health of the public have to develop expertise on the ways of big business and use this expertise in informing individual shareholders on the wider societal implications of their investments.
Competing interests: None declared.