The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare organized a virtual event with Prof. Tom Babor to discuss the latest edition of the book “Alcohol No Ordinary Commodity”. The book explores the harms caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry and the effectiveness of different alcohol policies.
Alcohol is no ordinary commodity because alcohol’s social, psychological and economic harms cause enormous costs to society.
- Alcohol causes harm to those who consume it.
- Harms due to alcohol affect people with lower socio-economic status disproportionately.
- Alcohol causes disproportionate harm in low- and middle-income countries despite lower levels of alcohol use in these countries.
- Alcohol is a major NCDs risk factor and a group 1 carcinogen.
- There are no health benefits of alcohol use.
- Alcohol harms not only the person who uses the product but causes also severe and widespread secondhand harm to others and society at large.
- Alcohol is a dependence producing substance.
Big Alcohol as vector of disease and opposition to health and well-being for all
The vast majority of the global alcohol industry is concentrated in a few transnational companies that are expanding their business in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” said Professor Emeritus Thomas Babor of the Department of Public Health at the University of Connecticut, USA, one of the authors of the book, as per NordAN.
The growing influence of large alcohol producers and alcohol industry organisations has undermined the willingness of public health authorities and policy makers to limit alcohol harm through effective policy interventions.”Professor Emeritus Thomas Babor, Department of Public Health, University of Connecticut, USA
As Prof. Babor explained, the alcohol industry’s aggressive marketing influences people to use alcohol, builds brand loyalty, and normalizes alcohol. This in turn is used by the alcohol industry as justification to interfere in alcohol policy making.
Alcohol is not a conventional consumer product. Understanding this is only the first step to solving the serious public health problem that alcohol causes,” said Prof. Babor, as per NordAN.Professor Emeritus Thomas Babor, Department of Public Health, University of Connecticut, USA
Proven alcohol policy solutions
The researchers who wrote the book ranked 69 alcohol policy solutions according to their effectiveness. Eight measures emerged as best practices. These were related to increasing alcohol pricing, decreasing alcohol availability, restricting alcohol marketing and driving under the influence prevention.
One of the best practice interventions identified is an alcohol retail monopoly, such as Alko in Finland or Systembolaget in Sweden.
Studies evaluating the impact of retail monopolies have shown that an exclusive system can remove the commercial interest in maximising alcohol sales and thus reduce alcohol-related harm,” said Professor Robin Room of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University in Australia, co-author of the book, as per NordAN.
In Finland, for example, Alko has a limited number of outlets, its pricing policies take into account public health considerations and it does not aggressively advertise its products.”Professor Robin Room, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe University in Australia
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) believes that the alcohol retail monopoly must be protected. However, the alcohol industry has launched a lobby campaign to undermine the retail monopoly.
Already in 2018 the Finnish alcohol retail monopoly was weakened by opening up 3% of Alko’s sales to competition by allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol products with an alcohol content of up to 5.5%.
The latest attempt of the alcohol lobby to further weaken the alcohol retail monopoly involves pushing for allowing grocery stores to sell wines and other alcohol products with alcohol content up to 15%. As Movendi International previously reported, research found that this goes would open 75% of Alko’s sales to competition, thereby, dismantling the monopoly.
The sale of wines, i.e. virtually all alcoholic beverages and mixed drinks below 15%, in grocery stores would undermine the monopoly system that also covers spirits,” said Pia Mäkelä, research professor at THL, as per NordAN.
The number of outlets selling alcoholic beverages above 5.5% would increase 12-fold if the current retailers of milder alcoholic beverages were also given the right to sell stronger alcoholic beverages.”Pia Mäkelä, research professor, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL)
The authors of the “Alcohol No Ordinary Commodity” book conclude that no single alcohol policy measure alone can counteract the harms caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.
In order to have a significant impact on the environment in which people live, the researchers advise integrating the most effective strategies and interventions into a package that includes measures like price and availability limits for alcohol products.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL): “International research review: increased influence of the alcohol industry undermines the use of effective alcohol policy interventions“
Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network: “Research review: alcohol policies are undermined by increased alcohol industry influence“