Independent is an interesting word

By Eric Crampton 14/09/2014


I presented to the Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship a few months back with a brief submission on recent evidence on the effects of alcohol advertising on consumption behaviour.

One pretty compelling recent piece of evidence is Jon Nelson’s recent meta-analysis, published in 2011. The abstract:

This paper presents a meta-analysis of prospective cohort (longitudinal) studies of alcohol marketing and adolescent drinking, which accounts for publication bias. The paper provides a summary of 12 primary studies of the marketing–drinking relationship. Each primary study surveyed a sample of youth to determine baseline drinking status and marketing exposure, and re-surveyed the youth to determine subsequent drinking outcomes. Logistic analyses provide estimates of the odds ratio for effects of baseline marketing variables on adolescent drinking at follow-up. Using meta-regression analysis, two samples are examined in this paper: 23 effect-size estimates for drinking onset (initiation); and 40 estimates for other drinking behaviours (frequency, amount, bingeing). Marketing variables include ads in mass media, promotion portrayals, brand recognition and subjective evaluations by survey respondents. Publication bias is assessed using funnel plots that account for ‘missing’ studies, bivariate regressions and multivariate meta-regressions that account for primary study heterogeneity, heteroskedasticity, data dependencies, publication bias and truncated samples. The empirical results are consistent with publication bias, omitted variable bias in some studies, and lack of a genuine effect, especially for mass media. The paper also discusses ‘dissemination bias’ in the use of research results by primary investigators and health policy interest groups.

So he picked the papers that use a baseline and exposure design and concluded that there’s really nothing much there except for publication bias.

The panellists didn’t seem particularly friendly or unfriendly. Tuari Potiki asked why economists’ conclusions on this stuff vary so much from the public health folks who’d presented earlier in the day, and the general tone of the Forum members seemed to be “what additional restrictions should we place” rather than “do any potential restrictions do more good than harm”, but maybe I misread them.

Well, the anti-alcohol advocates didn’t think the Forum was independent enough so they’ve made their own forum.* They’re calling it the Independent Expert Committee on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship.

Independent’s an interesting word, since the IECAAS is being hosted by Alcohol Action NZ, Doug Sellman and Jennie Connor’s anti-alcohol lobby group, and consists of Sellman, Connor, Janet Hoek, Mike Daube and others. They reckon the Ministerial Forum, including NZ Drug Foundation’s Tuari Potiki, wasn’t independent enough because the CEO of the Advertising Standards Authority is also on the Forum. Sellman et al are correct that the Forum members aren’t experts in alcohol marketing, but I’m really unconvinced that that makes them less independent.

IECAAS writes:

To date IECAAS members have found no significant new research that would invalidate the recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2010. In fact the evidence supporting major reform appears to be strengthening. The recommendation to phase out alcohol advertising and sponsorship apart from objective written product information over five years is therefore as important today as it was when first reported to the government in 2010. The only difference is that New Zealand could have made several years of progress had the government responded.

I wonder how hard they’ve been looking. There’s a reasonably important piece in the Journal of Economic Surveys that they’ve missed. And a few others.

* I can’t stop imagining Bender setting up his own theme park. Except this one would be way less fun than Bender’s.