From Local and National Action to Global Change
On 7-9 October 850 parliamentarians, government officials, researchers, community leaders and civil society representatives from 55 countries gathered in the South Korean capital, at the third Global Alcohol Policy Conference organised by the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA).
The conference with the title “Alcohol, Civil Society and Public Health: From Local and National Action to Global Change” included a comprehensive programme with 34 plenary and parallel sessions with expert speakers from all regions of the world. Topics ranged from advocacy and best practice examples to marketing, price and taxation and harm to others.
Several of the speakers and parallel sessions centred on the importance of advocacy work. A clear message was that successful advocacy must include knowledge (research), social mobilisation and political involvement – sometimes referred to as “the triangle that moves the mountain”.
A recurring theme was the role of the alcohol industry, both in shaping a climate of acceptance for their products through marketing and in influencing the political regulation of their products. It was argued that the alcohol industry continues to oppose effective policies and works to increase consumption. At the same time the industry promotes programmes that have a very weak evidence base, such as self-regulation.
However, speakers also pointed to progress in several areas. Many countries have recently developed national alcohol plans and implemented “best buy” policies at the national level. There has also been progress in measuring and quantifying the impact of alcohol, including harms to others.
The conference declaration – The Seoul Declaration – expresses strong support for the WHO Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, with particular attention to the three ”best buys”: controlling physical availability, restricting advertising and raising the price of alcohol.
The Declaration calls for better national surveillance and monitoring systems that are compatible with the WHO information systems on alcohol and health. It also expresses strong support for the global leadership role of WHO as well as the importance of civil society in mobilizing support for evidence based policies and warns against global economic agreements that may undercut national efforts to introduce or maintain evidence based policies to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol.
Korean National Alcohol Policy Act
At the closing day of the conference a draft of a new Korean Alcohol Policy Act was presented and handed over to a member of the South Korean Parliament. Professor Sally Casswell said that while it is difficult to describe the perfect alcohol policy, the Korean draft Act is “near ideal” and pointed out that a good alcohol policy should include a clear objective in order to withstand potential threats from e.g. international trade agreements. She praised Article 1 of the Korean draft Act, stating that its purpose is “to contribute to public health and happiness through prevention of harmful drinking and alcohol-related harms by controlling the environment of alcohol consumption so that the people may live in a safer environment.”
Eurocare was represented at the conference by several members and board members.