International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research (ISFAR) is Still Hiding Conflicts of Interest of Its Members

The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research (ISFAR) claims to be “an independent organization of scientists that prepares critiques of emerging research reports on alcohol and health.” The Forum describes itself as “an international group of invited physicians and scientists who are specialists in their fields and committed to balanced and well researched analysis regarding alcohol and health.” It is “a joint undertaking of Boston University School of Medicine in the United States and Alcohol in Moderation (AIM) of the United Kingdom. Its Co-Directors are R. Curtis Ellison, MD, Professor of Medicine & Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine, and Helena Conibear, Executive Director, Alcohol-in-Moderation (AIM), UK.”

The Rest of the Story

About a year and a half ago, I reported that ISFAR was hiding its conflicts of interest with Big Alcohol. At that time, ISFAR published a scathing review of a meta-analysis which concluded that moderate alcohol consumption does not reduce mortality as previously thought. The review contained statements from 14 members of ISFAR, and every one of the 14 blasted the study, with the review concluding that the study “markedly distorts the accumulated scientific evidence on alcohol and CVD [cardiovascular disease].”

It turns out that five of the Forum members who reviewed the article had conflicts of interest by virtue of either their having received research funding from the alcohol industry or serving on advisory boards of alcohol industry-funded organizations, yet none of these conflicts were disclosed.

Not only did ISFAR hide its conflicts of interest with alcohol companies on its web site, but it also hid these conflicts in a public interview.

More recently, one of the Forum members and reviewers was forced to publish a correction to a journal article because he failed to disclose that he is a beer industry consultant.

Has ISFAR reformed itself, and is it now disclosing the conflicts of interests of the reviewers who write its critiques?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

Nowhere on its website does it list the specific conflicts of interest of its members/reviewers. Nowhere in its critiques does it disclose these conflicts of interest. And to top it all off, the biographies provided for its members do not disclose their conflicts of interest.

For example, Dr. de Gaetano’s bibliography fails to disclose that he consults for the beer industry — the precise conflict of interest for which he was forced to publish a correction in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Dr. Estruth’s biography states that he is a member of the Advisory Board for “ERAB.” The reader is not told what ERAB stands for, hiding from the public the fact that ERAB is “supported by The Brewers of Europe, the voice of the brewing industry in Europe, whose members are the national brewing trade associations, representing more than 90% of European beer production.”

Ms. Stockley’s biography states that she works for the Australian Wine Research Institute, which it states is “an independent, not-for–profit research institution.” But it hides the fact that this Institute is funded by the alcohol industry. Far from being independent, the Australian Wine Research Institute is actually the “wine industry’s own research organisation.”

Dr. Teissedre’s biography fails to disclose that his research group received alcohol industry funding.

Dr. Waterhouse’s biography hides the fact that he has received alcohol industry research funding.

Dr. Skovenborg’s biography fails to disclose that he was on the Board of ERAB, which is funded by the alcohol industry.

Dr. Mattivi’s biography fails to disclose that he has received alcohol industry research funding.

Dr. Klatsky’s biography fails to disclose that in the past, he received alcohol industry funding.

Dr. Lanzmann-Petithory’s biography fails to disclose that in the past, she has received alcohol funding.

Dr. Gretkowsky’s biography fails to disclose that in the past, she has received alcohol funding.

So of the supposedly “independent” and “balanced” reviewers, at least 10 of them have conflicts of interest with the alcohol industry that are not disclosed on the web site, even in their own biographies.

Unfortunately, ISFAR continues to be essentially an industry front group that is providing highly biased reviews without readily disclosing the intricate details of the financial connections of many of its reviewers to the alcohol industry.

They should not fool anybody any longer. The time to end this scam operation is now. Especially in a period in which the federal government has basically tossed scientific objectivity out the window.

Sadly, what ISFAR is doing bears a strong resemblance to the fraudulent public relations activities of the tobacco industry many years ago. 

On a personal note, I feel somewhat ashamed that the Boston University School of Medicine has been playing a role in this scam, as ISFAR has been hosted, in part, by our medical center.

On a larger note, this story illustrates why the alcohol industry-funded NIAAA study of the potential cardiovascular benefits of moderate drinking is so problematic. The background research that informs the study is tainted by serious conflicts of interest. But the worst is yet to come — as I will reveal shortly, the research is not an objective attempt to get at the answer to this research question.

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CASAA Submits Comment to OMB Regarding CDC Campaign

Focus put on misleading “Tips From Smokers” campaign

In October 2017 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) submitted an information collection request titled “National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System” to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval. The OMB subsequently requested comment from the public to determine whether or not the collection and evaluation of information generated from the CDC’s National Tobacco Prevention and Control Public Education Campaign (“The Campaign”) should continue to receive funding.

CASAA took this opportunity to make a strong statement condemning the misleading “Tips From Smokers” campaign, which included ads such as the ad pictured at the right. That particular ad included an accompanying story that stated “Months after using e-cigarettes, she ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung…. Such wording was clearly an attempt to link her medical condition to the use of vapor products, rather than the fact that she continued to smoke up until her hospitalization.

In our comment to OMB, CASAA  noted:

  • The Campaign features misleading and inaccurate claims.
  • The Campaign is ineffective as designed and reported to date.
  • The Campaign does not adequately address the public health needs in that it promotes abstinence only, ignoring the lower opportunity costs along a continuum of risk reduction. 

CASAA recommended that The Campaign, “Tips from a Former Smoker,” be suspended and reworked to more adequately and truthfully educate the public. This will empower the smoking public to make a more informed choice about their tobacco use and health decisions.

CASAA strongly urged OMB to deny CDC’s request:

“It is time for the CDC to face the fact that The Campaign is inadequate to the task of promoting harm reduction in the smoking population. It is time that CDC change its focus from a nearly religious adherence to abstinence and align its mission with the core principle of public health – reduce the harm to the whole population, including smokers, through the promotion of harm reduction policies. It could do this best by recalling and retooling The Campaign towards promoting less harmful alternatives to combustible tobacco rather than presenting smokers with “Quit or Die” propaganda.”

The comment may be read here in its entirety:

Comment on CDC FR 2017-21122Comment on CDC FR 2017-21122.docx

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