#EACA3 is the official Twitter hashtag for the right now on-going East African Conference on Alcohol. I am here, in Arusha, Tanzania, to represent IOGT International and this is the speech I gave today in the opening of #EACA3: (check against delivery)
“Dear honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends
First of all I would like to thank the organisers for the opportunity to take part in this conference. It’s the third conference of its kind since 2009 carrying a very fitting title: Alcohol is a problem: Act now!
I am grateful that IOGT International can be a part of this significant moment when we all together set the phase and an example of making alcohol policy that protects public health and the African society from the rule of alcohol use.
IOGT International as a world-wide organisation has a long history of setting people’s life free – free from substances and free from injustice by empowering individuals and whole communities to create their own independent and sustainable life.
Africa is the place where the life and adventures of human kind have begun. Africa gave the world first tools, astronomy, art. Human kind got raised here and nowadays we are standing on a crossroad where we right on this continent can choose the way the human kind will walk on. It’s not Europe. It’s not USA. Western world has chosen a path of a slow self-destruction by letting the business-based organisations interfere in policies that are supposed to protect the public. This approach has negative impact on both developed and developing countries. The globalization of unhealthy lifestyle coming from the West has opened the door for Non-communicable diseases. Cardiovascular diseases, cancer or diabetes are striking all over the world regardless the borders powered by risk factors among which alcohol use has a leading position.
If we look at the world, we will see both good and bad. We will see wonderful and unbelievable achievements of people starting with science ending with sports and arts but we will unfortunately see also lots of scenes that should exist only in movies as a warning. Poverty, violence, wars, betrayal. Human beings are capable of both. The potential of a human mind is unlimited and does not need to be questioned.
The challenge is to channel the potential towards common good and long-term well-being.
I am standing here representing more than 100 civil society organizations that have a history of heart-driven work longer than 160 years. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, IOGT International has been working hard on creating enabling environments for children, youth, men and women, families, communities and societies. There are many obstacles for people’s development. IOGT International identifies alcohol as a factor leading to economic, democratic, social and physical harm and we see alcohol industry as a hinder to fair democratic processes, active participation of the citizens of this world and empowerment of individuals by striving exclusively for a profit using an intoxicating, addictive substance for their income.
Alcohol is a drug and it causes enormous harm on whole societies. Alcohol industry likes to argue that it’s only small groups of individuals with alcohol addiction that are the problem and that the rest of the society is better off with their products. Evidence shows that this is far from the real picture.
Violence, accidents, lack of education, unemployment, absence from work or school, bad health – all those are consequences of so called social use of alcohol carrying a paramount financial harm.
Only in European Union with its relatively small 27 states, the yearly costs on direct alcohol related harm are higher than160 bn USD. That is more than the first rescue package for Greece. Just imagine for a while the great possibilities the countries could create for their citizens if they had spare 160 bn of USD annually.
So how did the European Union get there? Slowly. Step by step, with the “invisible” help of alcohol industry glamorising alcohol – leading to cultures that excuse otherwise unacceptable behaviour if it was conducted under the influence of ethanol.
We have reached an ironic state, where punishment for violent acts is reduced if the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol. Where alcohol turns harassment into fun and where children of parents who are addicted to alcohol are expected to accept the situation, to learn to live with it instead of getting help. Europe is now waking up and again slowly is starting to take effective measures to avoid and reduce the impacts of alcohol use.
African countries have the chance to avoid mistakes of the western world and have a good start with policies that actually protect the rights and health of the citizens. And it’s, more than ever, important to do it now as the focus of alcohol industry has been shifted to this continent.
The Western market is saturated. Twelve British pubs close each week. Europeans are not able to use much more alcohol. Alcohol industry needs to look around for new markets. Their latest decade was dedicated to Asia, the next decade belongs to Africa. Africa with its growing economy is the perfect target. People can finally afford alcohol and boost the budget of the industry.
As we could see around the world, the increasing national prosperity tends to lead to decreased public well-being. Thailand for example has been facing a paramount alcohol problem only since 1950s – since the years of economic development.
(I showed the movie here)
The lobbying of the industry is enormous but do not let them take their opportunities at the expense of the opportunities that are opening for people of these countries after hard work of liberation. The economic and democratic development has the potential to bring better health, education, equality. The paradox is that health, education and equality suffer the most due to the alcohol use in the western world.
Alcohol industry’s special target are the women of this continent who are becoming strong and independent. All the strives to empower women will go in vain if their empowerment will get captured by the alcohol industry that is investing huge amount of money into finding new approaches and cracking African culture to be able to find the open door for their products. For the drug they wrapped into a nice cover. Otherwise pretty conservative alcohol industry works on lots of innovations to attract the African market. Nowadays it’s about 80% of new products and 20% of old ones. The western world’s market looks the other way around – 20% new and 80% of traditional products. I believe this division makes you understand the enormous effort with a promise of great financial interest in the long term. New flavours, new looks, new packaging, sponsorship of huge sport and cultural events.
Act NOW! To avoid bad example and the trends coming from the West, it’s crucial to exclude alcohol industry from all the policy making. It’s the public health experts, scientists and civil society organisations that know what to do for the best interest of the people. It’s them who truly care. Those who profit from the use of alcohol will never want to make an effort to reduce it and will always promote ineffective measures that often even encourage the use. As my colleague recently said: “You know a certain policy measure is ineffective, if the industry promotes it”
Reduced availability through prices, opening hours and age limits and ban on alcohol marketing will, on the other hand, always be the industry’s enemies because those measures actually have a great effect and significantly reduce use of alcohol.
Dear friends, Africa is the cradle of humanity. Act now and let Africa foster human kind towards freedom and genuine joy. Let the place of our origin be also the origin of policies made for the best interest of people.
Thank you and I wish you good luck with the conference!”