ICAP makes case for industry involvement in reduction of alcohol harm debate

27 November, 2009

A new book from the International Center for Alcohol Policies – ‘Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking’ – sets out the case for drinks producers’ involvement in the global strategies being developed by the World Health Organization.

At the Nov 26 London launch of the book, ICAP president Marcus Grant said: “WHO is in the midst of a global process to reduce harmful drinking. ICAP has been working with them to agree what industry can do to help implement the policy.”

Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh said: “There is a small but very vocal minority of public health officials who may not welcome this book,” adding that there is some active lobbying for the complete exclusion of the industry from the process. But, said Grant: “Alcohol producers have an essential role to play.”

The book includes an in-depth assessment of the different ways in which alcohol consumption has evolved, socially and culturally, in different societies around the world. The conclusion, broadly speaking, is that there can be no single strategy that will universally reduce harmful drinking.

“What is required is a range of options so that different countries and communities can select which combination of measures is likely to work best for them given their drinking culture and health priorities,” states the book’s Introduction by co-editors Marcus Grant and Mark Leverton, senior adviser to Diageo on alcohol policy, UK.

While recognizing that the drinks industry’s involvement could be seen as “enlightened self interest”, Graham Mackay, chief executive of brewing giant SABMiller, said: “Society will not fully address alcohol abuse without the collective involvement of the alcohol industry. We offer an intimate understanding of local markets, an ability to respond swiftly to issues, and the resources to bring stakeholders together. Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking sets out 10 practical and realistic solutions that, in our experience, are both effective and meaningful.”

Among other contributions in the book are key chapters by Adrian Botha, director of the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) in South Africa, on ‘Understanding alcohol availability: noncommercial beverages’; and by Godfeey Robson, director of health policy in the Scottish Government, on ‘Pricing of beverage alcohol’.

“Excessive restrictions, particularly on pricing, have unintended consequences,” argued Botha, citing the example of poor agrarian societies in South Africa in which many people earn their sole income from producing illicit, unregulated alcohol. “One has to address the issue that these people have to be brought into the system,” he said. It is calculated that one-third of all alcohol consumed worldwide is from non-commercial and illicit sources – and in some societies well in excess of 50%.

Robson, for his part, stated: “A problem drinker has all sorts of places to go and strategies to employ before having to take the drastic measure of reducing his alcohol consumption.” Although acknowledging that pricing – whether through increased taxation or other measures – has “a role to play in devising any policy to tackle harmful drinking”, he pointed out that studies have shown light and moderate drinkers to be most price sensitive. “The price-makers are largely not the alcohol industry,” he added.

The book concludes: “ICAP and the industry leaders that support it believe that there are many ways and models for stakeholders to work together in the implementation of a sound, balanced strategy.

“As the WHO global strategy moves into its implementation phase, there will be many opportunities for different stakeholders to work together effectively.”

ICAP is a not-for-profit organization set up in 1995 to “promote the understanding of the role of alcohol in society and to help reduce the abuse of alcohol worldwide”. It is supported by: Anheuser-InBev; Asahi Breweries; Bacardi; Beam Global Spirits & Wine; Brown-Forman; Diageo; Heineken; Molson Coors Brewing Company; Pernod Ricard; and SABMiller.

Published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking is online through routledgementalhealth.com or icap.org, priced US$69.95, £38.95.

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