INDUSTRIAL EPIDEMICS DEFINED: The concept of an epidemic associated with the commercialization of a dangerous product was first developed in the instance of tobacco [5,6]. Beatrice Majnoni d'Intignano [7–9] extended this concept to epidemics related to the consumption of commercial products (e.g. alcohol, illicit drugs, food, cars, guns). We further modified that concept to cover diseases of consumers, workers and community residents caused by industrial promotion of consumable products, job conditions and environmental pollution, respectively, and to endemic as well as epidemic conditions. In each instance, public health-oriented policies run the risk of being opposed by industrial corporations in a health versus profit trade-off. In this editorial we argue that the term ‘industrial epidemics’ applies to alcohol because alcoholic beverages are industrial products, and alcohol-related problems fit the concept of increased frequency as a marker of epidemics, whether over time, in different places, or among subgroups of particular populations ….
There are several ways in which corporate activity may drive an epidemic, either initially when a new product is introduced or as a secondary impetus following an endemic period. ‘Generational epidemics’ derive from the need of corporations to replenish their population of users as old cohorts die out and new cohorts of potential users are moving toward adulthood. For example, as a new generation of potential drinkers comes of age, the alcohol industry competes for the young adult market. An important research question is how much of the recent increase in heavy episodic drinking among young Europeans is due to aggressive marketing by the alcoholic beverage industry? ‘Targeted epidemics’ refer to decisions by industrial corporations to single out particular groups for increased use or consumption of its products, or for the development of new products. In the case of alcohol there is a long history of such targeted epidemics, such as the Gin Epidemic in the 18th century [14,15]. In recent times, one may cite increased use of flavored malt beverages (‘alcopops’) [16,17] by adolescents in many countries as a targeted epidemic. Finally, ‘transnational epidemics’ are a special group of epidemics where the targets are foreign countries. Industries export their products to other countries to augment their markets or to develop new markets that are not yet saturated or subject to stringent regulations. The alcohol industry's global corporations have expanded alcoholic beverage markets in several developing or transitional countries in the past few decades , which has been associated with increasing alcohol problem rates.