70th World Health Assembly

Alcohol brought up in WHA NCD debate

A number of interventions by Member States of the World Health Organization emphasized the need to address alcohol in the recent debate about non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in May.

Sri Lanka, speaking on behalf of 11 countries of the South East Asia Region of WHO (SEARO), pointed to the considerable harm caused by alcohol, both in their region and in the world. Said the representative from Sri Lanka: “In the context of the preparation for the UN HLM on the prevention and control of NCDs in 2018, 11 member states of South East Asia believe harmful use of alcohol is a major issue in need of urgent attention. The last Expert Committee on this topic met in 2006 and the situation has changed markedly since then especially with regard to cross- border marketing including in the social media. Therefore, SEARO member states request the DG to initiate and resource an Expert Committee to report on alcohol control situation and progress prior to the UNHLM in 2018.”

The request for a new Expert Committee was also supported in a statement by Estonia on behalf of the three Baltic states. Referring to the intervention from Sri Lanka, Estonia said “We share their concerns. The harmful use of alcohol clearly needs more attention at the WHO level.” Estonia pointed to the side event on “Alcohol marketing in the digital age”, that they co-sponsored in last year’s WHA.

Norway and Botswana also supported Sri Lanka’s proposal for a new Expert Committee to be set up by WHO. In the debate several countries, including Thailand, Liberia, Vietnam, Zambia, Panama, Canada, Nigeria, Uruguay, Brazil, and Surinam mentioned alcohol in the NCD context.

While Ghana, speaking on behalf of the 47 countries of the African Region, did not specifically mention alcohol, their interventions included concerns about underfunding and industry interference: “The glaring and continued underfunding of work to accelerate implementation of NCD prevention and control measures in the region needs to be addressed, particularly in the area of industry interference that block measures to implement domestic taxes on health-harming products in order to ensure the self-financing of national responses.”

WHO Forum on alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviour

26-28 June 2017 WHO held the Forum on alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviour with a primary goal to enhance public health actions in these areas by strengthening partnerships and collaboration among public health oriented organizations, networks and institutions. More information about the Forum is available at the WHO website.

During the High Level segment at the first day, GAPA Secretary, Øystein Bakke, made the following intervention:

Chair,

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance is an international network of non-governmental organisations and people working in public health agencies who share information on alcohol issues and advocate evidence-based alcohol policies, “free from commercial interests.”

Having followed the development of the Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol and later the implementation of it over the years, we see that the resources allocated to addressing these harms are miniscule. New developments like cross border marketing, including in social media, and economic treaties only exacerbate the situation. The low and middle income countries are targeted and they are the ones who are going to provide the future profits of the multinational alcohol industry. These countries lack the resources to stem the tide. And changing this is not easy, as pointed out in an intervention in the NCD debate at the recent World Health Assembly. Ghana, on behalf of the whole African region pointed out: The glaring and continued underfunding of work to accelerate implementation of NCD prevention and control measures in the region needs to be addressed, particularly in the area of industry interference that block measures to implement domestic taxes on health-harming products in order to ensure the self-financing of national responses.”

We are convinced that a legally binding instrument to strengthen the public health response to harmful use of alcohol is needed. We were encouraged by observing the debate at the WHA where Sri Lanka, on behalf of 11 SEARO countries; Estonia on behalf of the three Baltic states; and other countries like Botswana and Norway pointed to the problems mentioned and asked the DG to initiate and resource an Expert Committee to report on the alcohol control situation and progress. More than 10 years have passed since the Expert Committee on alcohol met last time. Let this be the first step – it is now time that bold steps are taken – and that resources are mobilised to support them.

Curbing industry marketing of harmful products to young people

Professor Ayo-Yussuf

Professor Ayo-Yussuf

In a meeting in Cape Town 26 August 2016 international experts support call for marketing ban on harmful products to protect children.

Young South Africans consume harmful products like tobacco, sugar and alcohol at alarming levels with 17.6% of high school learners smoking tobacco monthly, 12% of adolescents initiating alcohol use before age 13 and 6.9% being obese.

International experts discussed ways to change this reality and some of the WHO evidence-based strategies suggested were taxation, marketing bans and reducing access to these products. These strategies are most effective when implemented at population level and benefit both children and adults.

Professor Isidor Obot “African governments have allowed alcohol companies to do whatever they want to do on the continent. Governments have a responsibility to protect the health of African youth.”

Prof Ayo-Yussuf said, “Despite the ban on advertisements of tobacco products, the industry continue to promote smoking among youths through offer of free cigarettes, promotion of discount prices, product placement in movies and TV soapies and glamorous point-of-sale displays.”

Sally Casswell

Professor Sally Casswell

“Alcohol marketing in the digital world is pervasive and threatens efforts to control alcohol related harm, particularly in emerging markets and middle income countries,” urged Professor Sally Casswell

Tobacco, alcohol and sugar are risk factors for ill-health in both the short and long–term. The prime aim of marketing of these products is to create new consumers and therefore it targets children and young people. Advertising and promotion increases consumption of harmful products by children and young people in particular and therefore they will be the main beneficiaries of advertising and promotion bans on these products.

Karen Hoffman

Karen Hoffman

Prof Karen Hoffman said “Comprehensive bans on marketing to vulnerable populations should be harmonized to address the triple threat from the industrial epidemics of alcohol, tobacco and sugary drinks.

“”A ban on advertising of harmful products is part of a comprehensive package of cost-effective interventions including policy change, social mobilisation and support for behaviour change “said Prof. Karen Hoffman.

A Health Promotion Foundation is a vehicle which can gather and mobilise the evidence for health promoting packages and lobby for their implementation as well as draw on inter-sectoral action from in order to protect the health of children.

GAPC2017 Mobilising for change

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC2017), Mobilising for change: Alcohol policy and the evidence for action, will be held from 4-6 October 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. Early bird registration is still open until 30 June.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), and National Alliance for Action on Alcohol Harm (NAAA) invite you down under to this important international conference.

The GAPCs, organised every second year, have become the leading forum for the world’s alcohol policy makers, researchers and practitioners. Melbourne, Australia will be the venue for the 2017 version of the event, following the successful conferences in Thailand, South Korea and Scotland.

The Scientific Advisory Committee of GAPC2017 received a great number of abstract submissions from researchers and practitioners for a range of presentation types including oral presentations, workshops, table-tops and posters. The programme is available at the GAPC2017 web site

GAPC2017 maintains the tradition of focusing on advocacy, overcoming vested interests in alcohol policy development and the need for international collaboration to stop the harm caused by alcohol.

The conference will forge links between evidence and action, using rigorous alcohol policy research to inform effective responses at local, state, national and international levels. Each day will be distinct and dedicate time to learning from other sectors – with a diverse range of speakers and topics beyond alcohol, along with insights from other successful interventions, global alliances, and advocacy movements and how these can be applied to the alcohol policy environment.

Register now
Early bird registration is open until 30 June. More information about the conference is available at the GAPC2017 website.

See you in Melbourne!