A new partnership between Australia’s largest alcohol retailer and the Dry July Foundation, which raises money for people affected by cancer, has drawn the ire of leading public health experts.
The Woolworths-owned BWS liquor chain last week announced it was teaming up with Dry July, which challenges Australians to go alcohol-free for a month, to raise money for charity and promote its low- and no-alcohol products to participants.
But Michael Thorn, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, dismissed the move as nothing more than a “cynical marketing exercise” that was “particularly egregious” because of the well-established link between alcohol and cancer.
“It is inappropriate to have one group that sells cancer-causing alcoholic beverages 365 days a year partnering with the other group that fundraises to support the victims of alcohol harm,” Mr Thorn said.
“Unless every BWS outlet shuts up shop for the month, this stunt will do nothing to reduce alcohol harm.”
Alcohol is classified as a class 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and is estimated to be responsible for 5.6 per cent of cancer cases in Australia each year.
Mr Thorn said the partnership was “dangerous” and has called for it to be immediately dumped.
Public health bodies condemn move
Public Health Association of Australia CEO Terry Slevin said the “very clear and solid evidence” linking alcohol consumption to cancer risk made the partnership “surprising” and “disappointing”.
“I’ve been a very strong and very public supporter of Dry July in the past … and it has good reason to be proud of its work,” Dr Slevin said.
“But this association – it’s hard not to be cynical about it.”
BWS chief executive Guy Brent said the retailer would encourage its staff and customers to sign up to Dry July, provide donation tins in store, and promote low and alcohol-free drinks across the month.
“Of course, if anyone fancies a beer we have some tasty no-alcohol ones at BWS, so you can raise a glass without breaking the challenge,” he said.
But Mr Thorn said the promotion of low- and no-alcohol products was simply another way for the alcohol industry to promote its brands more broadly.
“That’s what our marketing research tells us – people recognise the brand, and it’s just another attempt by producers and retailers to recruit drinkers, and that’s the problem with it.”
He said Australians “don’t accept” the endorsement of tobacco companies for health initiatives, and the alcohol industry should be no different.
“I cannot believe there would be a single cancer charity in the world that would accept a donation from a tobacco company. This is exactly the same story,” he said.
Dry July defends partnership
Dry July Foundation CEO and co-founder Brett Macdonald defended what he described as an “unlikely partnership” and said the foundation was “very selective” about who it chose to partner with.
“We have partnered with BWS as they recognise the shift in attitudes and behaviours to alcohol consumption in Australia, and stock many non-alcoholic options in their stores for our participants,” Mr Macdonald said.
“Over the past few years there has been an increase in the amount of non-alcoholic options on the market, with plenty of non-alcoholic options in store. This has allowed BWS to get on board in a genuine way.”
He said Dry July consulted with its major cancer charity beneficiaries, including the Cancer Council of Australia, prior to confirming the partnership.
Dr Slevin, who has previously worked for the Cancer Council, said it was a “difficult issue” for the organisations receiving Dry July funds.
“They’re all charities and they all need to raise their funds … so, I understand the pressures upon them,” he said.
“But they also need to protect their good name and their reputation, and demonstrate that they’re there primarily to focus on reducing the burden of cancer – whether that’s reducing the burden on people who have the disease, or reducing the prospect of people getting the disease in the first place.”
FARE has written to the same beneficiary organisations urging them to intervene.