The Woolworths-owned bottle-o chain announced last week it was partnering with the not-for-profit group next month, encouraging customers to sign up to go dry.
Brett Macdonald, who co-founded the Dry July Foundation and is its chief executive, celebrated the partnership in a statement at the time.
“BWS teaming up with Dry July might seem like an unlikely partnership, but it’s one we have no doubt will help increase awareness of what we do, and raise even more important funds for cancer patients and their families and carers,” Mr Macdonald said.
“BWS have shown a real commitment to the cause with team members going dry during July and supporting customers taking part to stick to their no alcohol commitment.”
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has warned the partnership is dangerous, calling for Dry July to dump BWS “immediately”.
The health group’s boss Michael Thorn said an estimated 3200 people developed alcohol-attributable cancer each year.
“This is a cynical marketing exercise by BWS designed to push the Woolworths’ alcohol brand and normalise alcohol,” Mr Thorn said.
“Alcohol is a class 1 carcinogen. The alcohol in one bottle of wine has the equivalent cancer risk of smoking five cigarettes for men and 10 cigarettes for women.
“It is inappropriate to have one group that sells cancer-causing alcoholic beverages 365 days a year partnering with the other group that fundraises to support the victims of alcohol harm.”
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Dry July challenges participants to abstain from drinking for one month and to raise money for cancer support charities, including the Cancer Council, McGrath and Leukaemia Foundation.
FARE has contacted those groups to express its concern about the sponsorship and urged them to intervene.
“To be raising money to help people suffering cancer in a way that causes more cancer cases in the future is completely futile,” Mr Thorn said.
A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology on Monday revealed that alcohol has been ranked Australia’s most harmful drug due to the number of deaths, injuries, family impacts and the economic impact of abuse.
It beat out crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as “ice”, for the dubious honour.
Professor Carol Emslie from Glasgow Caledonian University in the United Kingdom lashed out at Dry July’s association with an alcohol seller.
She started the prominent Don’t Pink My Drink campaign in protest of alcohol brands using cancer awareness causes to promote their products.
“This partnership seems particularly bizarre. For years, the alcohol industry has promoted breast cancer awareness activities while selling products that are known to be carcinogenic in an attempt to extend their marketing reach to young women,” Professor Emslie said.
“This partnership seems to be a similarly cynical attempt to extend marketing reach by associating a large alcohol retailer with a well-known charitable cause.”
Guy Brent, the CEO of BWS — which has said it will become “Because We’re Sober” for July, replacing Beer Wine and Spirits — said in a statement last week that the retailer was passionate about community causes.
“At BWS we like to do things differently,” Mr Brent said.
“With over 8000 team members who are all passionate about the communities they serve, Dry July is about us coming together to raise funds for a very worthy cause.”
In response to FARE’s anger, Mr Brent defended the Dry July partnership and said he was proud to help raise money for cancer charities.
“Unfortunately, many of our team members have been affected by cancer and the partnership with Dry July Foundation gives them an opportunity to raise funds for a cause close to their heart,” he said.
“There are 1340 BWS stores across Australia and more than 8000 team members. By encouraging our staff and customers to participate in Dry July and donate to the Foundation, we are hoping increasing funding to the charity, which raised more than $7.7 million last year.
“BWS believes in giving consumers choice, which is why in recent years it has increased its range of low and no alcohol drinks for those reducing their alcohol intake, taking part in Dry July, or choosing to abstain entirely.”
Dry July Foundation said it was “very selective” about its partnerships and was comfortable with the BWS arrangement.
“Prior to the partnership being confirmed, we consulted with our major cancer charity beneficiaries and informed them of the partnership with BWS,” Mr MacDonald said.
“Dry July is about giving up alcohol for 31 days. Outside of July, we encourage people to stick to the daily recommended alcohol consumption limits.”