Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Reflections on GAPC 2017

Alcohol Focus Scotland’s Alison Douglas and Laura Mahon attended the Global Alcohol Policy Conference which took place in Melbourne, Australia from 4-6 October 2017.

The theme of the conference was “Mobilizing for Change: Alcohol Policy and the Evidence for Action.” Visit the GAPC 2017 website

As well as sharing Scotland’s experience in advocating for minimum unit pricing, protecting children from alcohol marketing, and building a coalition to tackle non-communicable diseases, Alison and Laura attended numerous talks and presentations over the three days on topics including alcohol’s harm to others, marketing policy development, influencing those in power and alcohol industry tactics and campaigns.

Here, Laura shares her thoughts on the conference and the priorities for global action on alcohol.

What were the key themes to emerge from GAPC 2017?

The main takeaway theme for me was that the alcohol harm reduction community needs to continue to get smarter, louder and stronger.  Significant progress is being made across the globe to tackle alcohol harm but the power and influence of the alcohol industry continues to be a significant barrier.  GAPC provides a unique and valuable opportunity for people working in research, advocacy and development from around the world to come together to share learning and experience of reducing alcohol harm.  We need to capitalise on that opportunity and continue to build partnerships and coalitions to amplify our messages and improve our influence.

Which countries are leading the way on alcohol policy?

There are really interesting and varied examples of alcohol policy from all around the world.  Scotland is considered to be one of the countries at the forefront of progressive alcohol policy, particularly because of our Minimum Unit Pricing legislation. 

Sri Lanka has some very robust alcohol marketing restrictions in place but it was concerning to hear how alcohol producers are exploiting social media to circumvent the restrictions.  Thailand is also taking bold action to prevent increases in alcohol harm and we heard from some really inspiring policy advocates from Brazil and Africa who have successfully campaigned to expose shameful alcohol industry practices in their countries while building communities of alcohol advocates.

Did a particular initiative or presentation stand out to you?

I was fascinated to hear from the Australian Alcohol Ad Review Board about some of their achievements in exposing inappropriate placement and content of alcohol ads. I was also inspired to hear from Dr Bronwyn King who talked about her experience of a career change from clinical oncologist to the CEO and founder of Tobacco Free Portfolios

I also really enjoyed hearing from some of the Australian politicians who spoke at the conference.  Richard Di Natale is leader of the Australian Greens and actively campaigns for the banning of unhealthy commodity industries making financial contributions to political parties.  There were so many great presentations it’s hard to pick just a few highlights!

What are the priorities for global alcohol advocacy?

For me, there are two key priorities.  The first is to continue to build on the relationships forged at GAPC to develop consistent, clear advocacy messages and to draw on the wealth of expertise from our own and other sectors such as tobacco control, cancer prevention and children’s rights. 

The second is to be bolder and braver in taking on and exposing the tactics of the global alcohol industry.  GAPC speakers repeatedly provided examples of the worrying reach and influence of these huge corporations and how their impact is being felt by communities in all countries represented at the conference.  It can be intimidating, feeling like you are David taking on Goliath, but there is power in the collective intelligence and passion of global alcohol advocacy and we must not lose sight of this.

How can Scotland contribute?

Scotland needs to continue to share our experience to help encourage and inspire others.  Should the UK Supreme Court find in favour of the Scottish Government with regards the legality of minimum pricing, we will move to implementation and the eyes of the alcohol advocacy (and alcohol industry) world will be on us.  We need to continue to seek to be at the forefront of action to reduce alcohol harm and to build upon the progress we have already made.  We need to continue to look outwards, to learn from other countries about what works, to ensure that we continue to follow evidence-based practice and to create the evidence for others to follow.