It is good to hear Christchurch city council in New Zealand is in the process of developing a local alcohol policy to reduce the harm done by alcohol use. One of the council members stated that the local alcohol policy sticks to its core aim of reducing alcohol related harm in the city. They have received more than 4,000 submissions during the public consultation. It shows the enthusiasm and the motivation of the people to have their own alcohol policy to prevent and minimize problems created by alcohol use and to protect themselves from the alcohol industry.
It is not a secret that the tobacco industry has been and still is always trying their best to manipulate tobacco control policies, either , directly or indirectly – often unethically. Big Tobacco is famous for buying policy makers and politicians, too. As the global alcohol industry has learned many lessons from where Big Tobacco went wrong, they must have developed advanced ways of implementing the same tactics.
Big Alcohol may not be interested in local alcohol policies if those are less impactful to the alcohol industry in the national level. However it is not that difficult to understand that if all city councils start formulating effective local alcohol control policies that would directly affect Big Alcohol as a whole. And therefore I am pretty sure that the global alcohol industry pays and uses their agents to weaken the effort to prevent and minimize alcohol harm even on local level, or they may try to recruit people within the authorities themselves as their agents.
The question here is the level of effectiveness of the local alcohol policies. As described in the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy, alcohol policies must aim on availability, marketing, pricing, and drink-driving policies and countermeasures to be effective. Whether it is local or national, aiming at recommended policy areas will gain the desired results.
From the news release it is clear that Christchurch city council is aiming on opening hours of the taverns which come under restrictions in availability. It came to my mind while reading the news article that in one city in Australia, late-night assaults declined by nearly 40% when closing hours for alcohol purchase were turned back modestly. Further in a city in Brazil, with one of the highest murder rates in the country, the introduction of restrictions on alcohol availability was followed by a 44% decline in murders. This shows the impact of effective alcohol policies.
If it permits, councils can get positive impact through formulating policies on marketing and pricing, too. Just like in the national level Big Alcohol agents will interfere in local policy formulation processes when councils take action on areas where there is direct impact to the trade. Therefore the policy process should be backed by the strong community action, too. Big alcohol will try their best to have favourable national policies or international trade policies to minimize the impact of local alcohol policies. Community and the council both have to be vigilant on how the industry will interfere.
The answer is to integrate alcohol control measures in to other policies too. It can be consumer protection, environment, traffic or any other.