Reducing harmful drinking
The International Centre for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) recently launched a book to challenge excessive and harmful use of alcohol. The book, whose title is ‘Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking’, was launched in Johannesburg, recently.
The abuse of alcohol has drastic consequences on the safety and health outcomes of nations. Road accidents, family and sexual violence and homicide and foetal alcohol syndrome, are some of the occurrences where alcohol tends to have a direct role. ‘Working Together to Reduce Harmful Drinking’, contains nine chapters written by experts in the alcohol industry, government and academia. It seeks to contribute to a global strategy to reduce irresponsible and harmful alcohol consumption and its attendant risks. But is there even a definition of what responsible drinking is?
‘There isn’t really even a global definition of harmful drinking’, answered editor of the book and President of the Washington-based International Centre for Alcohol Policies (ICAP), a think-tank on how to reduce abuse of alcohol worldwide, Marcus Grant.
‘The circumstances within which you drink, the people you drink with, the place you’re doing the drinking, the beverages that you’re choosing, they change at different times. (For) some people it’s always the same, (for) some people it changes quite a lot. And there are styles of drinking that we would all recognize as being very, very risky. There will be other styles of drinking that we would all say: ‘Well, that sounds very benign’. If someone says: ‘I like to go home and every day I like to have a glass of wine with my dinner’, I think most people would say, ‘well, they’re probably not doing themselves any harm. They may be doing themselves some bit of good’. But if that same person said: ‘I don’t really like to do that. I like to save all those glasses of wine up and I like to have them on a Saturday night and I don’t like to have them as wine in any case. I like to have something that’s much stronger’, then, we’d say that ‘well, doesn’t sound like a very balanced style of drinking’. So, when you’re talking about harmful drinking or even risky or irresponsible drinking, you have to look, almost in a common sense sort of way, at what are the probable outcomes of that particular pattern of drinking spread over a lifetime. So, it isn’t easy to get a common definition’, Grant continued.
Adrian Botha of South Africa’s Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use contributed a chapter to the book. Giving his personal and simplistic definition of what responsible and irresponsible drinking is, he said that ‘it’s drinking in a way that does not have a negative impact on yourself, on your family and on those around you. Irresponsible drinking, on the other hand, is exactly having a negative impact’, Botha said.
Clarity of definition or not, the book has great intentions. Its launch comes just over a month before the World Health Assembly’s meeting in Geneva in May to discuss a global strategy developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to reduce harmful alcohol consumption.
‘The international community has recognized the very serious health and social problems that are associated with irresponsible drinking in a way that they had not done in the past and the focus of the book is not to say:
‘How can we eliminate beverage alcohol from the world, but how can we eliminate from the world the harm that is caused by people who use alcohol in an irresponsible way’?’ , said Marcus Grant, editor of the book.
Grant said it’s crucial to involve alcohol producers in the strategy to reduce harmful alcohol consumption. The final chapter of the book offers 10 examples of how alcohol producers around the world can contribute towards the strategy.
‘For example, producing high-quality and alternative strength products, sharing data with the WHO but also with and governments, responsible innovation in terms of product development and in terms of packaging, efforts to counteract counterfeiting, addressing the issue of illicit and informal alcohol, responsible marketing and self-regulation, encouraging responsible retailing, responsible drinking initiatives, developing community partnerships and then, working with governments to have a rational taxation policy. These are all very specific areas in which this industry, and this industry alone, can make the right contribution’, said Grant.
‘We also strongly believe that there’s got to be a collaboration with industry. Industry has to be involved in the programme for responsible drinking’, offered Gerald Mahinda, CEO of Brandhouse, marketers of drinks such as Heineken and Johnnie Walker in South Africa.
‘There’s this dramatic tension’¦ While on the one hand only a small proportion of consumers abuse alcohol, on the other hand these that do abuse it tend to have a disproportionate effect ‘ harmful effect – on many other innocent people and it’s those consequences that we’ve got to continuously manage and find creative ways, not just pay lip service to, but find creative ways to really deal with the harmful effects of alcohol. We do acknowledge that alcohol does have a negative impact’, Norman Adami, chairman and Managing Director of South African Breweries (SAB), added.