A renewed call for action on alcohol policy


A new version of the book, ‘Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity’, provides the most compelling case yet for fiscal and regulatory measures to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and the importance of not allowing the alcohol industry to set the agenda and propose largely ineffective policies that rely on provision of information alone.

The release of the second edition of Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity[1] comes at a very important time in the global context of alcohol policy, alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. There is a renewed awareness of the serious social harms caused by alcohol consumption in countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, where media stories on the social costs of alcohol are a recurrent feature in daily newspapers. Not incidentally, there has been an unprecedented globalization of the alcohol beverages industry which now produces a wide range of new alcohol products that are promoted via sophisticated marketing campaigns aimed at young people. At the same time the industry has invested massive resources in a global effort to produce a minimalist ‘self-regulatory’ environment that advances their commercial interests while allowing them to represent themselves as ‘responsible’ corporate citizens.

The first edition of Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity[2] served as a global call to implement evidence-based alcohol policies. It provided an accessible summary of a highly complex and dynamic body of evidence on the harms of alcohol consumption and the effectiveness of measures for reducing these harms. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity became mandatory reading for scientists, policy makers and clinicians entering the field of alcohol public health.

Alcohol policy research is central to the work of Addiction. A substantial number of manuscripts are published in the journal each year describing the social and health consequences of excessive alcohol consumption and evaluating various approaches to reducing these.

In the second edition of Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity, 15 of the world's leading alcohol researchers update and synthesize the evidence in seven general policy areas: pricing and taxation; regulating the physical availability of alcohol; modifying the drinking context; drink-driving prevention and countermeasures; restrictions on marketing and advertising; education and persuasion strategies; and treatment and early intervention services. As with the previous edition, the major avenues for intervention identified as likely to reduce harm were reducing affordability (through price) and access (limits on age, number of outlets and trading hours) as well as drink driving countermeasures and treatment services. The book reminds us of the very low level of evidence in support of education and awareness campaigns—the preferred interventions of the beverages industry and governments.

The second edition has expanded upon one of the most controversial and notable elements of the first edition: its analysis of the role that the global beverages industry plays in influencing policy and research agendas. The second edition provides more detailed examples of the way in which the industry shapes the development of policies congenial to their interests through marketing, links into governments and social aspects/public relations organizations (SAPROs). As documented recently in Addiction, the latter organizations have been developing ‘alcohol policies’ in developing countries that will facilitate the production and promotion of beverage alcohol in these emerging markets [3].

In this edition of Addiction, we alert the field to the publication of this important book by publishing a summary of its key findings [4]. We hope this will support non-governmental organizations (NGOs), public health advocates and civil society in persuading governments, policy makers and communities to adopt evidence-based policies that are likely to reduce alcohol-related harm and avoid the ineffective policies preferred by vested commercial interests and some governments overly dependent upon alcohol taxes for income. We also hope that the evidence amassed in this book will inform the World Health Organization as it considers the adoption of a Global Alcohol Strategy that will serve as a future guide for governments throughout the world.

The timing of this publication is ideal in increasing pressure on governments to deal more effectively with alcohol-related harm. It also provides important information to counter the efforts of industry to subvert public health policies. The Alcohol and Public Policy Group have reminded us in this second edition that ‘alcohol policy needs to be evidence-based, the policy agenda needs to be shaped by the evidence and alcohol policy needs to serve the public health interests of the many rather than the economic interests of the few’[5].

Declarations of interest