How can we influence alcohol policy?
23 March 2015
There are Christian organisations and churches around the world and Christians are involved in all sectors of society with a variety of jobs, roles and positions. WHO has given a mandate to all bodies, even those without a stake, to work towards reducing alcohol related harm. With our networks we are powerful when we work together and understand the challenge.
What is the challenge?
There are many challenges. Europeans drink more alcohol per capita than anybody else in the world. (11 litres per capita). Working days lost due to alcohol, accidents and harm to others due to alcohol are at the top part of the list. Did you realise that Europeans die pre-maturely due to alcohol- or alcohol related illnesses. Still we do not make visible campaigns against this serious matter because we consider alcohol as acceptable and it feels difficult to face the facts. Do you feel this too?
The growing economies are the other major challenge. When people receive income that enables them to spend some money on non-basic goods, the commercial world will suddenly attack these new consumers through marketing and advertising and give them ideas how they can spend their money. Sadly, the alcohol industry is doing exactly this. They search for new markets and new consumers. If one product does not sell to certain groups of people they try to develop the product so that it will sell. In Africa I have seen horrid adverts where spirits are mixed with fruit juice and then the advert says 100% natural. Can you imagine how misleading this is? It is also wrong to make people feel that alcohol is a reward or status symbol- it is not an ordinary product- is causes harm and addiction! Within Africa’s 46 countries, there are only 6 with alcohol policy and only 8 have draft policies. 36 of these countries have a rule of minimum age for selling alcohol but there is no monitoring in most countries as policy is missing. Would you like to live in a country without alcohol policy and what do you do if you have to?
For me one more challenge is poverty and alcohol. Alcohol can be an escape from reality but this means that we lose active members of society to addiction. If home brew is more profitable than farming or other work it is hard to motivate people to leave the harmful lifestyle. If commercial players pay better for those who farm for alcohol production, the rest of the farming does not develop, as it is economically non-viable. We can influence production with our consumer choices. I am afraid wine still sells better that grapes. What can we do?
I believe it is about doing basics, being involved, raising the debate to decision makers and training communities to take action. Each country needs alcohol legislation. The legislation needs implementation and monitoring and people need to receive understanding. It is about doing right things with our ethics and supporting each other so that these things get done. Many countries do not implement their legislation because alcohol industry is a strong commercial player and is also well connected with decision makers. We are connected too and we must speak up!