Thursday, February 16, 2012

From the first global alcohol policy conference in Bangkok

I´m sitting in the lobby of my hotel and waiting for the departure back to my cold homeland. I´ve been here the last four days with almost 1200 people from around 60 countries and the first global alcohol policy conference (GAPC) finished yesterday evening.
I had the pleasure to be one of the speakers here, introducing alcohol policy situation in my small homeland Estonia. Alcohol policy has made some great progress in last... 6 years or so. In 2006 the first European alcohol strategy was accepted. In 2010 WHO-s first global alcohol strategy followed. These are certainly important milestones. No doubt about it. But the conference here in Thailand raised an important and logical question: how to move from papers to action. This is coming from decades of experience. It is extremely important to have a grounding document, a strategy, but its just not enough. There are too many cases in national and international levels, where action is not following. For instance another Baltic state, Lithuania, accepted a national Health Program in 1999 and one of the goals was to cut the per capita alcohol consumption to 7 litres. Reality moved to the opposite direction so that in 2005 Lithuanians drank around 14 litres.
Estonia does´nt have a strategy and during its 21 years of independence it has´nt had a real alcohol strategy. There have been roundtables and working groups. We are working on a alcohol policy green book right now, but I cant help my pessimism about that. What does a good green book do for a government that just is not motivated to deal with this issue?
At least partly it looks like alcohol policy has a chance if different measures can be integrated into other policies. Estonia has raised alcohol excise taxes by 50% since 2005. And public health has´nt been the main reason behind that. Aspiring to become the next euro-zone member in 2011, the government needed extra revenue and alcohol taxes was a good chance to get that. And that is great. Alcohol policy was taken forward without public health reasoning. So what? Important that steps were made.
Of course its much more difficult with other important alcohol policy fields like marketing and availability. Without focusing to public health, things are not moving over there. And things just are not moving in that regard in Estonia.
So how to be able to "smuggle" these arguments into different policies?! Thats a challenge. And it might be dangerous only to focus on strategies. Strategy does´nt equal with action. But it of course helps.

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