GAPC2017 Mobilising for change

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC2017), Mobilising for change: Alcohol policy and the evidence for action, was held from 4-6 October 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. 

David Jernigan

Prof David Jernigan presenting the Melbourne Communique

In his summary at the closing of the GAPC2017 Professor David Jernigan, chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, reported the hard facts about the conference:

  • 331 delegates,
  • 40 countries represented,
  • three thematic pre-conferences,
  • nine plenary sessions,
  • 20 concurrent sessions and 12 workshops.
  • A total of 120 oral presentations

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) hosted 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 was fifth such event, following the successful conferences in USA (2000), Thailand (2012), South Korea (2013) and Scotland (2015). In the closing session the GAPC flag was handed over to Pubudu Sumanasekara from Sri Lanka, which will be the host country in 2019.

GAPC2017 maintained 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. A number of presentations addressed aspects of how the international drinks industry is pushing new markets in low and middle income countries through policy.

The conference forged links between evidence and action, using rigorous alcohol policy research to inform effective responses at local, state, national and international levels. In the final session the Conference Communique (pdf) was presented.

The DrinkTank website is full of documentation, post event updates and videos from the conference.
More information about the conference is available at the GAPC2017 website.

See the video from GAPC 2017:

Some pictures from the conference

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:


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.

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.”

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.