Policy Actors’ Perceptions of Conflicts of Interest and Alcohol Industry Engagement in UK Policy Processes

Document Type : Original Article


1 Institute of Alcohol Studies, London, UK

2 MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK


Alcohol industry organisations occupy a prominent position in UK alcohol policy, but their involvement has been contested by public health bodies on the basis that a conflict of interest (COI) exists between their economic objectives and those of public health. There are ongoing debates in the research literature about how to conceptualise COI and mitigate this in health research and practise. However, less attention has been paid to these issues in relation to the alcohol industry specifically. This article explores similarities and differences in beliefs among alcohol policy actors regarding COI and the implications of engagement with the alcohol industry in the context of UK public health policy.
Semi-structured interviews with a range of policy actors (n = 26) including medical professionals, parliamentarians, civil servants, academic researchers, health campaigners, and alcohol industry representatives. Interviews with alcohol industry representatives were supplemented with an analysis of industry responses to a public consultation. All data was thematically coded using NVivo software.
Two competing “coalitions” were identified, expressing beliefs about COI linked to alcohol industry engagement. Both divergent and convergent beliefs were expressed by the two coalitions in relation to the type of industry actor, form of engagement, the policy issue under discussion and the stage of policy process.
Alcohol policy is a complex and contested space in which policy actors have differing, nuanced and contingent understandings of COI and identify varying risks associated with alcohol industry engagement. In identifying the areas of convergence and diversion in both understanding and evaluation of COI in alcohol-specific settings, these findings will assist both decision-makers and non-governmental actors in developing policies and guidelines to manage potential COI in future.


  • Receive Date: 04 April 2023
  • Revise Date: 27 October 2023
  • Accept Date: 14 January 2024
  • First Publish Date: 15 January 2024