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CEOs put weight behind new book

A new book entitiled Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking demonstrates the contribution of alcohol producers to reducing harmful drinking with the aim of stimulating enthusiasm for the private and public sectors to work together.

The International Center for Alcohol Policies  has launched the book as a contribution to the World Health Organization's global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, as well as to the work of regional organisations and national governments involved in alcohol policy development and implementation.

The book makes the case that beverage alcohol producers are legitimate stakeholders in government and public health initiatives to reduce harmful drinking; that it is essential to engage and integrate them continuously in the process of strategy development and its implementation; and that, with producers’ support and involvement, efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm will have a much higher chance of success. It explores areas where alcohol producers' technical competence can make a positive contribution to reducing harmful drinking and where industry input has been welcomed by WHO.

ICAP president Marcus Grant states: “Good intentions on the part of the industry are insufficient – we hope the book will stimulate even greater enthusiasm for the private and public sectors to work together to reduce harmful drinking and to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.”

To answer the critics who seek to sideline alcohol producers in the international debate, the book demonstrates that the alcohol industry is positively contributing to global policy discussions.  The book’s answer to critics is: “Industry should be involved if industry has something to contribute, just as any other stakeholder in the alcohol field.”  

Marcus Grant makes the frank assertion: “Alcohol producers are under no illusion that they are the most important players in developing and implementing balanced alcohol policies. Governments, health professionals, and civil society must occupy centre stage. But, equally, alcohol producers are convinced that they do have a role to play.  This book aims to demonstrate just how positive that role can be.”

The book covers all the areas where the alcohol industry has experience: producing beer, wine, and spirits; addressing availability of noncommercial drinks; pricing, marketing, and selling beverage alcohol; encouraging responsible consumer choice; and working with others to reduce problems.

Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking concludes with a menu of 10 areas for specific actions that producers have put to the WHO and are willing and able to take, where permitted and appropriate, in countries around the world. Some are extensions of action that they are already taking; others are new proposals, offered in the spirit of breaking down traditional divisions between the private and public sectors. All are based on the experience, competence, and resources of the industry.

The messages recurring throughout the book are that reasonable regulation provides the context for good alcohol policy, excessive regulation often leads to unintended negative consequences, leading producers have a proud record of making positive contributions to implementing effective alcohol policies — but there are opportunities to do much more.  The book acknowledges that very few strategies for reducing harmful drinking are universally applicable, and that, realistically, a range of options is required so that different countries and communities can select what combination of measures is likely to work best for them given their drinking culture and health priorities.

At the launch event, Paul Walsh, CEO, Diageo, underscored the importance of working together: “It is the only effective way to go to reduce harmful drinking — involving everybody who has something to bring to the table, including governments, law enforcement, public health organisations, experts in social and psychological behaviours, communities, and the whole supply chain involved from crop to cup.”
Graham Mackay, CEO, SABMiller, also spoke at the launch event, making the case that:  “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.”

The authors of Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking are experts in their respective fields with experience of working in industry, government, and academia. The book is directed toward a broad readership and will be of interest to: policy-makers involved in healthcare but also finance, agriculture, justice, tourism, and culture; public health and social policy specialists; health advocates; and beverage alcohol industry members, including those in the supply chain from farming to advertising, hospitality sectors, and retail.

About the International Center for Alcohol Policies
ICAP is a not-for-profit organisation supported by some of the major international producers of beverage alcohol. Set up in 1995, ICAP’s mission is to promote the understanding of the role of alcohol in society and to help reduce the abuse of alcohol worldwide. It works to foster dialogue and partnerships involving governments, the public health community, the beverage alcohol industry, civil society, and others interested in alcohol policy. ICAP’s work in the alcohol policy field is shaped by its commitment to pragmatic and feasible solutions to reducing harm that can be tailored to local and cultural considerations and needs.

1 December 2009 - Felicity Murray