Drink Tank

Hope, evidence, and the momentum for change

The following is an edited extract of the closing address by Associate Professor David Jernigan (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins University, USA) at The Global Alcohol Policy Conference (#GAPC2015).

412 delegates. 110 oral presentations. At least 55 posters. 60 countries represented. And one First Minister.

To me our work here, at the 2015 Global Alcohol Policy Conference, is all about two fundamental principles.

Firstly, hope. The hope that we can make a difference. Hope that the world that we live in, the world we see around us and that our young people grow up in, can be a different place. A place where healthy choices are encouraged, where children have a right to grow up safe from alcohol harm and safe from the pressures to drink. I am extraordinarily hopeful, partly because of the progress I have already seen in my lifetime.

And secondly, I am guided by an enormous respect for the evidence. The evidence keeps us honest, the evidence base is growing and changing and we are always trying to keep up with it. It’s been an important piece of this conference that has been well represented here.

The focus of this conference has very much been on change. There’s been tremendous dialogue from people all over the world with a focus on how we can make this change, the evidence of effectiveness, and sharing concrete experiences of implementation.

It’s been clear from the presentations that there is a lot of exciting and important work, making it difficult for delegates to choose between conflicting sessions as there are so many good things happening.

The conference has illustrated the growth of regional alliances, the alcohol policy coalitions all over the world which are popping up.

We know what we want, it’s very clear. There’s enormous unity around WHO’s three best buys for reducing alcohol harm: decrease the availability, increase the price, restrict and reduce the marketing.

Also present throughout this meeting is the powerful marriage of research with advocacy, an appreciation for both groups, and for that middle space where translation has to happen.

It’s important to better understand the opposition and the challenges we face. Yes there is a very big fish out there. But there are also many of us small fish and the public is with us.

The alcohol industry is getting larger, and the attacks on individuals who oppose what the industry wants are becoming more and more personal. We have to take that as a sign of success. There should be lots of people and voices out there with you, these attacks are opportunities for us to rally around each other. No matter what the industry does, this important work cannot and will not stop. An industry spokesperson once said they were being pecked at by ducks – I am so proud to be among the ducks!

So what are some of the next steps? The first is to keep this momentum going, the work that everyone referred to in their regional reports which is already underway.

We need more national policies. We need more civil society engagement. We need to better harness the technologies that are available and build the kinds of relationships and networks seen in this room. We need better links to other fields and movements, the growing coalitions against this epidemic of corporate-borne disease seen in many areas of health. We also need a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control, with concrete and global restrictions and an integrated strategy.

I am proud to be part of this group of people, and I ask that we as a conference adopt the following declaration by affirmation.

We, the participants of the fourth Global Alcohol Policy Conference ‘Momentum for change: Research and advocacy reducing alcohol harm’, gathered in Edinburgh, Scotland on 7-9 October 2015, reaffirm our commitment to evidence-based actions to reduce alcohol-related harm worldwide.”

View the full Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2015 declaration

Get ready for GAPC2017

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2015 truly has begun the momentum for change.

And as this year’s conference proceedings drew to a close, the current Scottish hosts handed over the flag to Australian delegate FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn.

The next Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC2017) will be hosted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA). Watch this space for further details.

We hope to see you in Australia for GAPC2017!

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David Jernigan

Dr David Jernigan is the Director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA.

He has worked as an advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank on alcohol issues. He has also authored numerous peer-reviewed articles and has trained thousands of public health advocates in media advocacy and alcohol-problems prevention.

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