The 7th Global Alcohol Policy Conference was held in Cape Town, South Africa 24 – 26 October 2023. 521 participants from 55 countries attended the rich program over three days under the headline “Investing in people before profits: building momentum towards the Framework Convention on Alcohol Control”.

Go directly to sections:

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC) was hosted by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA), and the South Africa Department of Social Development. The delegates were welcomed in an opening session chaired by Professor Charles Parry, Chair of the National Organising Committee and Director, Mental Health, Alcohol, Substance Use & Tobacco Research Unit at SAMRC. Later in the conference delegates were welcomed by indigenous leader Paramout Chief Joseph Kreeling and his daughter Princess Charné Kreeling, represent the Griqua from the Eastern Cape.

Minister highlighting push back from industry

In her opening remarks of the conference Hon Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, pointed out the relevance of the conference program for South Africa. “For us as the host country, this conference could not have come at a more opportune time. A month ago, we tabled the Draft Policy on the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Use Disorders to Cabinet for public consultation”, Ms Zulu said. She also pointed out that various measures introduced to reduce alcohol harm, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, were met with “monumental and well-resourced push back” from the alcohol industry. Said Ms Zulu: “The alcohol industry’s opposition against the proposed policy measures is despite the fact that restricting the time and place for the sale of alcohol is a public health issue and not a mere commercial and economic concern. This is also because industry is rich and powerful, with strong lobby groups not short of the financial muscle to litigate any piece of legislation up to the court of the last resort”. In her statement she reinforced one of the key themes of the conference, namely, the importance of putting people before profits.

During her speech she was also reminded by delegates holding placards of the demand to “pass the liquor amendment bill now”. The Liquor Amendment Bill has not been passed many years after it was tabled. To this Ms Zulu agreed that the Government needs to listen to this demand.

“Positive moves in the global environment

” Professor Sally Casswell, Chair of the board of GAPA, in her opening address pointed to some “positive moves in the global environment: the Global Alcohol Action Plan endorsed last year at the World Health Assembly, more resources available for and more action from the WHO secretariats – globally and in the regions, significant input from philanthropic sources and innovative community action.” However, she emphasized that GAPA’s  goal remained to achieve a stronger intergovernmental response similar to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which has proved valuable in assisting governments to protect their ability to implement strong policy in the context of trade and investment agreements.

With the World Health Organization (WHO) as a co-sponsor, the opening also included videoed addresses by Dr Adelheid Onyango, Director of Population Health at the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville and Dr Jérôme Salomon, WHO Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage, Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases.

The opening sessions set the stage with two keynote speeches: “Gender-based violence and alcohol: A case for stepping up the role and scope of regulators”, presented by Ms Bongi Ndondo, Chair of SAAPA South Africa; and “The benefits of quitting drinking on cancer risk – IARC Handbooks evaluations”, by Dr Beatrice Lauby- Secretan, Head, IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention.

Taxation, marketing, conflict of interest, and new initiative in focus

The plenary programme reflected GAPA’s mission is to promote science-based policies free from commercial interests with a focus on taxation, a win-win solution for governments but not yet used widely enough, on regulating digital alcohol marketing, a major gap in effective policy response by governments and a high priority for the commercial interests to defend; on the important issue of industry activities, their inherent conflict of interest with public health, and potential government responses. The last plenary session was a panel on new initiatives in promoting impactful policies and reducing industry influence. Plenary speakers came from all parts of the world representing expertise in their various fields.

Networking and social space

GAPC 2023 was a thriving meeting place for civil society, researchers, and policy makers in the field of alcohol policy promotion. It was held in a secure atmosphere without involvement of those with a conflict of interest from the alcohol industry. More than 300 abstracts were submitted for the conference which had 7 plenary sessions, 28 concurrent sessions and 3 workshops, including regional workshops allowing for networking and discussion of issues of particular interest to each region. For the first time a caucus of indigenous people were able to meet to discuss alcohol policy as part of GAPC2023 and they made a strong call for enhanced alcohol policy and self-determination. At the regional report back plenary there were strong calls for building networks of stakeholders without conflict of interest, collating regional evidence regarding what works to reduce alcohol harms and sharing resources such as the I-Mark tool to support independence from alcohol industry influence developed by colleagues in Ireland”.

Other special workshops included one on Assessing Industry Penetration and Government Response in the International Alcohol Control (IAC) Study and a special event by Hlanganisa Community Fund for Social and Gender Justice, in collaboration with the Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance, on Women Shaping the Alcohol Policy Discourse.

Clear messages

There was a clear message coming out of the conference for the need for denormalization of alcohol use from everyday events. One way in which this was reflected was in the fact that alcohol products were not available at the opening reception on the first day, and at the African Street Party held on the second evening, alcohol products were only made available at delegates’ own cost, and served from a separate room with no branding or other form of marketing.

In the closing session, in line with the title of the conference: “Investing in People before Profits: Building Momentum towards the Framework Convention on Alcohol Control”, the delegates adopted by acclamation a conference declaration calling on national governments to “establish clear rules separating the industry from engagement with policy development” and for them to request the WHO Director General to “study the necessity and feasibility of a legally binding instrument to strengthen the public health response to alcohol consumption and related harm”.

Conference Declaration

We, the 521 participants from 55 countries gathered at the 7th Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Cape Town, South Africa from October 24-26, 2023,

  • Recognizing alcohol’s significant role in the global burden of disease and as a major barrier to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,
  • Call on our national governments to recognize the alcohol industry’s conflict of interest with effective alcohol policies, and establish clear rules separating the industry from engagement with policy development;
  • Call on WHO Member States to direct the WHO Director-General and other intergovernmental organizations to:
    • study the necessity and feasibility of a legally binding instrument to strengthen the public health response to alcohol consumption and related harm, through consultation with nation states and civil society, and
    • Report the findings through the Executive Board to the World Health Assembly.

GAPC 2023 programme booklet

Key information:

  • GAPC #7, 24-16 October in Cape Town, South Africa
  • 521 registrants from 55 countries
  • 7 plenaries, 28 concurrent sessions, 3 workshops
  • 312 abstracts submitted
  • 159 oral presentations
  • 89 posters
  • Hosted by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA), and the South Africa Department of Social Development
  • Co-sponsored by the World Health Organization
  • Sponsored by the Open Philanthropy, National Research Foundation, the DG Murray Trust, South African National Convention Bureau, the Department of National Health (South Africa), and FORUT.
  • Side events:
    • WHO SAFER and RESET Alcohol knowledge and practices exchange on country alcohol policy;
    • WHO EURO – ‘People before profits;
    • FORUT partner network Annual Consultation;
    • ICARA – Advocacy Workshop & Annual General Meeting;
    • Movendi International – Alcohol Policy Accelerator.

About GAPC

GAPC is the leading forum for the world’s alcohol policy makers, advocates, researchers, civil society activists and practitioners. With its high level of heavy episodic drinking and related harms, and its long history of challenges in getting policy shifts in areas such as controls on alcohol marketing and retail sales of alcohol, South Africa was an ideal venue in which to discuss alcohol policy and in which to host GAPC 2023.