By Henry Ashworth
By comparison, a divided response to issues like harmful drinking has the potential to create unintended consequences, including a rise in the consumption of illicit alcohol, which is untaxed, unregulated, and potentially toxic. The recent deaths of 141 Indonesians from homemade oplosan is a tragic reminder of the very human costs related to illicit alcohol. When this tragedy struck, The Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS) suggested that the restrictions on legal businesses were creating unintended consequences and the move towards illicit alcohol.
There are some who argue that the profit-making objectives of beer, wine, and spirits producers are incompatible with health goals. This is not my experience. Being part of the solution and tackling harmful drinking are central to the long-term sustainability of the companies that support IARD. That is why IARD members have initiated and developed innovative partnerships with hundreds of organizations, and reached millions through programs focused on preventing underage drinking and combatting drinking and driving, as just two examples.
Partnerships that are making a difference
In Australia, stakeholders from alcohol producers, law enforcement, media, sports organizations, retailers, and the entertainment industry worked together to devise the internationally acclaimed “How to Drink Properly” campaign; this aimed to tackle extreme drinking, and reached two million young people. An evaluation of the first phase of the campaign indicated that 81% of young people now understand the importance of drinking in moderation, 54% agreed that the campaign gave them a platform to talk to friends about drinking, and 71% now reflect on their behavior when they go out.
Similarly in Namibia, the Self-Regulating Alcohol Industry Forum (SAIF) worked with local police and others to support enforcement efforts. Their activities included a ‘train the trainer’ program, which aimed to train traffic law enforcement officers in preparation for public holidays when large numbers of drivers tend to travel on the highways. In addition, SAIF organized a press conference to announce the plans to reintroduce breath testing devices. Following these activities, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) noted a 55% decrease in fatalities, a 17% decrease in traffic crashes, and a 15% decrease in hospitalizations during the 2016 Easter holiday, compared to the same period in 2015.
In the Dominican Republic, where road deaths are sadly prevalent, IARD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare (MISPAS), which focused on preventing alcohol-related harm, and reducing drunk driving. As part of this work, IARD also supported the introduction of a maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers, and proposed high-visibility sobriety checkpoints. These efforts have been recognized and Congressman Tobias Crespo who sponsored the new traffic law said: “We value in a positive way the efforts of IARD to foment, through its programs, the responsible consumption of alcohol to prevent traffic crashes, and above all: save lives.”
These examples show the importance of having a whole-of-society approach to meeting health and other challenges faced at local and national levels. Successful partnerships such as these can only thrive when there is a broad and responsible business sector, able to play its role and able to support others in playing theirs.
Our vision is an environment where the development of a responsible and moderate cultural relationship with alcohol can help reduce non-communicable diseases, while supporting economic growth and job creation. And a united and collaborative response, including the beer, wine, and spirits producers, is an effective and powerful way in which we can tackle NCDs and meet the targets laid out within the Sustainable Development Goals.
Henry Ashworth is the CEO and President of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking.