The Minister of Health and Wellness of Jamaica, Dr. Christopher Tufton has prohibited all agencies, officials or employees of the ministry from accepting donations, sponsorship, gifts, services or assistance in cash or kind from tobacco or alcohol-producing companies or their subsidiaries.
The measure is in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recommendations.
Movendi International applauds Minister Tufton for taking bold action to stop alcohol industry interference in public health.

The Minister outlined the instructions in a memo sent on October 11, 2021. He stated, as a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Jamaica is responsible to ban tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion. He added that the draft Alcohol Policy, which was approved by the Human Resources Committee of Cabinet in June this year, will also be amended to include prevention of donations by the alcohol industry to government institutions, officials or employees. This alcohol policy aims to reduce alcohol advertising by preventing and/or reducing promotions, sponsorship and any advertising targeting youth.

Alcohol burden in Jamaica

Alcohol is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Jamaica. According to the Jamaican health ministry, NCDs are the leading cause of death in the country.

Late last year, Minister Tufton announced a package of policies targeting NCDs prevention. Among them was also a policy to include “front of package labeling” on alcohol. 

© World Health Organization 2018 Global Alcohol Status Report, Country Profile Jamaica

As WHO reports, over a third (40.8%) of all Jamaicans who consume alcohol (15+ years of age) engage in binge consumption. Almost half (48.4%) of the alcohol using youth between 15 to 19 years of age engage in binge alcohol consumption. 

Despite the harm, Jamaica does not have a comprehensive national alcohol policy model. The proposed alcohol labeling is a step in the right direction, but Jamaica has a long way to go in terms of effective alcohol policy to help reduce the NCD burden in the country. 

The best buy measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), are evidence-based proven effective alcohol policy solutions, which Jamaica can use to strengthen their alcohol control policies.

Protecting public health policy from alcohol industry interference

Preventing donations from the alcohol industry is an important step to protect alcohol policy development from alcohol industry interference. The measure is backed by the WHO and PAHO.

In March 2019, the WHO Secretariat issued an information note directed at all staff at the WHO, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and ICC worldwide. The note was leaked at a time when WHO at all levels was increasingly coming under lobbying pressure from Big Alcohol. It shows the organization’s effort to protect its mission and work from alcohol industry interference.

Interaction with the alcohol industry within a given framework should not lead to or imply “partnership”, “collaboration” or any other similar type of engagement that could give the impression of a formal joint relationship, the reason being that such engagements would put at risk the integrity, credibility and independence of WHO’s work.”

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION Information Note: 12/2019. Subject: Principles and guidance for interaction between WHO Secretariat and the alcohol industry

In early 2018, the world of global health was shaken by a serious scandal. The Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis, and Malaria had announced to partner with Heineken – despite the fundamental conflict of interest with the fund’s objective to tackle the burden of HIV and AIDS. This partnership was beneficial only to the global beer giant because it gave Heineken credibility in its marketing to consumers and legitimacy as a partner to governments. The response from communities around the world was swift and strong. After investigative reporting showed how Heineken is exploiting young women to sell and promote beer (“beer girls”) the Global Fund decided to suspend the partnership.

Already in March 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak took hold of the planet, Movendi International issued a Statement of Concern regarding the role and actions of the alcohol industry during COVID-19. Major alcohol producers had announced their commitment to helping fight the novel coronavirus. Movendi International highlighted three reasons for concern.

Concern 1: Free PR and extensive media coverage

The alcohol industry has rolled quickly PR and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaigns to capitzalize on the pandemic.

Political leaders and the media should refrain from providing a platform for brand exposure and free coverage of a health harmful industry.

Why is this a problem?

CSR initiatives are known to be strategies by the alcohol industry to do well by appearing to do good.

Positive brand exposure, marketing their brands to a wider audience, and generating public support for their business and products are the goals the alcohol industry is pursuing in order to stimulate consumption – which keeps fueling alcohol harm. But alcohol interacts lethally with the coronavirus.

Concern 2: Preferential treatment of the alcohol industry

As governments are considering and instituting COVID-19 counter-measures, evidence clearly shows that the alcohol industry is lobbying for preferential treatment.

The CSR blitz is not altruistic behavior. Alcohol producers are entering the healthcare market in order to bolster their case and credibility for favourable treatment – to avoid regulation and even to secure worsening of existing alcohol policies.

Why is this a problem?

In some countries and jurisdictions, alcohol industry lobbying and corporate social responsibility have succeeded in acquiring “essential service” status, protecting alcohol retail outlets from being shut down, as all other businesses that are not essential for society’s functioning during the lockdown phase of the pandemic.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic healthcare systems and services were heavily burdened by alcohol harm.

Therefore, measures to reduce overall alcohol consumption and related harm are important – and doctors are urging governments to take action.

Concern 3: More harmful marketing and less alcohol policy protections

The alcohol industry is using the pandemic to lobby for deregulation and weakening of existing alcohol laws.

The alcohol industry is lobbying for tax reductions and the suspension of alcohol retail regulations.

They are also exploiting this crisis to market their products in aggressive and novel ways. This leads to alcohol promotions in contexts and times that up until recently were off limits. Aggressive marketing campaigns expose children and youth to alcohol promotions.

Why is this a problem?

Weakening alcohol policy protections is likely to have severe consequences in the short- and long-term: alcohol harm might not decrease as would be expected in times of crises and it is likely difficult to reinstate the same level of alcohol policy protections after this pandemic is over.

A report by the NCD Alliance and the SPECTRUM Research Consortium has exposed how Big Alcohol turns COVID-19 into the world’s largest marketing campaign. The report contains more than 360 examples of alcohol industry activities to exploit the public health crisis to pursue profit maximization.

Some of these conncerns are now echoed by Minister Tufton in his decision.

Big Alcohol interference is a major obstacle to evidence-based alcohol policy development

The alcohol industry has been investing large amounts of money in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in Jamaica, specifically during the ongoing pandemic. However, as Minister Tufton identified, these CSR initiatives by health harmful industries ultimately aim to promote and increase use of their products – causing health, social, and economic harm.

Alcohol fuels the coronavirus pandemic in different ways, the alcohol industry exploits the current public health crisis and many governments around the world have largely failed to protect their people by using evidence-based alcohol policy solutions as part of the response to COVID-19 – according to a brand new research report.

We support and commend the decision by Minister Tufton to put the people first and protect them from the harmful consequences of alcohol industry interference in public health,” says Kristina Sperkova, International President of Movendi International.

Accepting funding, entering into partnerships, or dialogues with the alcohol and tobacco industries comes at a high price. While Big Alcohol and Tobacco benefit, the public’s interest to be protected from the products and practices of the alcohol industry is ignored, and put aside.

But Minister Tufton has chosen to put people first and to protect public health efforts to prevent and reduce alcohol harm from alcohol industry interference. That is true leadership.”

Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International

Movendi International has documented the consequences of alcohol industry interference around the world. There are countless examples of how alcohol industry CSR organizations undermine science, shift blame to consumers, obstruct or negatively influence public health oriented alcohol policy making and use philanthropic activity to promote positive brand images. All this serves to build a smokescreen around the direct and fundamental conflict of interest inherent in any Big Alcohol involvement in health and development initiatives.

Alcohol industry bodies have said they are “disappointed” by this move by the Jamaican health minister and “insulted” by being likened to the tobacco industry. However, Big Alcohol’s use of the tobacco industry playbook is well-documented. An example is how the alcohol industry used tactics from the tobacco playbook to undermine the success of temporary alcohol bans during COVID-19 in South Africa.

Source Website: The Gleaner