The Global Alcohol Policy Conference was held 13–15 February 2012, with the theme “From Global Strategies to Local Actions” at the Impact Convention Centre, Nonthaburi close to Bangkok, Thailand.

At the opening ceremony the voice of Thai children rang out a simple but apt message to the delegates that at local, national and regional level “ACTION IS NEEDED” to change from “HARM TO HOPE” and that “TOGETHER WE CAN”.

This was followed by a very powerful address from Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, Deputy Director General of WHO. In welcoming delegates he declared: “We must not underestimate the alcohol industry. They will hit back, attack our evidence, attack our science and attack our policies. Resistance will come from well-financed lobby groups.”

The conference was jointly organized by the Thai Ministry of Public Health, WHO, the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. GAPC saw leaders from all over the world, who are committed to working towards implementation of effective alcohol policy, come together to provide an opportunity for policy makers, advocates, academics, and campaigners to share and exchange their knowledge and experience.

Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah outlined five prerequisites for action on alcohol:

“The first is political commitment. Taking action requires national and local political commitment, and this includes taking global action. Together, some people refer to this as “global action.”

“The second prerequisite is to present good news: a menu of effective, affordable policy solutions exist at every level, including pathways to drinking and the social and cultural levels. These options must continue to be supported by the latest scientific evidence.

“The third is leadership of the health sector in both treatment and prevention. We must adopt a human rights approach and move away from discrimination and blaming of the victim.

“The fourth is partnership with various organizations in legislation, enforcement and policy implementation. We should include the private sector, law enforcement, private security, finance and implementing tax policies.

“The fifth prerequisite is financial commitment. The backing of champions is needed.

“Your voices will be critical to bringing change. To overcome resistance the passion and the innovation of civil society organizations is needed. Stick to well-documented critical evidence. This is a noble fight and WHO cannot be a bystander. If ever there was a time to accelerate alcohol and tobacco control, this is the time. It is my prayer that if ever the history of alcohol control is written, this conference was a turning point.”

Speaking alongside Dr AsamoaBaah at the opening ceremony was Derek Rutherford, Chairman of Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), who complimented the Thai Health Promotion Foundation for overcoming the challenges presented by the recent flooding in order to host the event. He said now is the time for countries to work together to face the challenge posed by alcohol:

“No region of the world is unaffected by the growing epidemic of the social and public health harm of alcohol use. The global alcohol strategy presents a tough stance against alcohol – if countries unite.”

Dr Krissada Ruengareerat, CEO of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation explained how Thailand had recognised the importance of curbing alcohol harm in order to improve public health and social standards and prevent damage to the economy. He highlighted that countries could learn from Thailand’s approach to tackling the problem of alcohol:

“Thailand has taken an innovative approach to alcohol control. We introduced a new finance model, using a 2% surcharge tax from alcohol and tobacco to fund ThaiHealth. Furthermore, The 2008 Alcohol Control Act is a ground-breaking alcohol control policy for Thailand. It is well recognised that global marketing contributes to the rising trend of alcohol consumption and we urge countries to follow the Thai example of restricting alcohol marketing practices to protect young people.”

GAPC marked an important milestone for global alcohol control efforts. The Conference brought together 1,120 participants from 59 countries, including parliamentarians, government officials and NGOs, to discuss policy solutions to the global problem of alcohol harm. On leaving the conference Dr Asamoa-Baah concluded, “I came, I saw and I am impressed.”