Alcohol has a long and storied history of people arguing for its control and abolition using specious reasoning. At the outbreak of World War I, future British Prime Minister David Lloyd George famously declared that "drink is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together." A misrepresentation of the facts, one might say.

Today, however, it is promotors of alcohol consumption who make counterfactual and anti-scientific claims in order to protect industry interests.

A study released today by PLOS Medicine concludes that the alcohol industry unduly influences policymakers throughout the world into ratifying policies favorable to the alcohol industry, misrepresenting consensus knowledge and distorting disinterested policy research in the name of private interests.

Alcohol presents a serious problem for public health decision makers the world over, with drink responsible for 4 percent of the global burden of disease.

In light of that sobering fact, the alcohol policy community agrees that the best way to control the negative problems associated with alcohol consumption is to raise its price, control availability, and restrict marketing.

A similar approach has been applied to Big Tobacco, whose direct involvement in policy decisions in many countries has been altogether banned.

Not so with alcohol. Unlike the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry holds tremendous influence over government policy throughout the world.

For example, in some low-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the drink industry — not the government — creates alcohol policy, with alcohol industry representatives going as far as drafting policy documents themselves. Furthermore, in many high-income countries, the alcohol industry leads public education efforts.

The PLOS study, titled "Industry Use of Evidence to Influence Alcohol Policy: A Case Study of Submissions to the 2008 Scottish Government Consultation," concludes that alcohol industry spokespeople overwhelmingly misrepresent consensus research findings during consultations with policymakers.

First, the industry actors oppose the scientific consensus that minimum price points, restricted availability, and restricted marketing are likely to be effective at achieving desired public health results. What's more, those actors fail to address the research, or make evidence-based arguments against it. In short, their claims are counterfactual and unsubstantiated, the paper concludes.

Second, industry spokespeople obscure strong evidence by presenting it as weak, and promote weak or anecdotal evidence as strong. For example, the alcohol industry typically advocates an individual responsibility approach, despite evidence that this approach does not produce population-level benefits. Nevertheless, the industry adheres to this "bad-apple" line of reasoning.

"To tackle the minority with alcohol problems — the drinkers rather than the drink," and to enforce "policies which punish all drinkers for the misconduct of a few," would be unfair, according to The Wine & Spirit Trade Association.

Study authors Jim McCambridge, Ben Hawkins, and Chris Holden, all faculty of Public Health & Policy at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, argue that little evidence supports the notion that alcohol education alone can combat alcohol-related social problems. Despite this assertion, industry advice to policymakers consistently supports a public education approach.

The paper concludes that reform is in order — if policymakers ever have access to unbiased information — in accordance with their goal of improving public health.