Alcohol policy

The NordAN alcohol policy platform was adopted by the annual assembly of representatives in Reykjavik, Iceland on 12 October 2007.

Alcohol Policy Platform

1. Harm done by alcohol is a serious social and medical problem
Harm done by alcohol is one of the most serious threats to social welfare and health in the Nordic and Baltic states, in Europe and globally. In a report to the European Union (EU), 23 million Europeans are estimated to be dependent on alcohol, and alcohol accounts for an estimated 195 000 deaths annually in the Union. Eurocare estimates that more than 320 000 children in the Nordic countries live in families with alcohol problems. More than 55 000 persons under 30 die in Europe in a single year from alcohol related illnesses, accidents or violence. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that alcohol is the third most important cause behind lost life years in the EU, after tobacco and high blood pressure.

2. Prevention is most important
It is more humane and efficient to prevent alcohol related harm, than to wait until it has occurred. Therefore, the most important task of alcohol policy is prevention. At the same time, those who have developed alcohol dependence or have been affected by other alcohol related harm must be offered treatment based on science and experience.

3. The consumption of alcohol must be reduced and drinking patterns improved
There is a strong relationship between the total consumption of alcohol and the harm. But also drinking patterns, e.g. how alcohol is consumed at every occasion and the degree of intoxication, are important. The preventive alcohol policy therefore must strive both for reducing the total consumption and for reducing binge drinking. It is also important that alcohol is avoided during childhood and adolescence, during pregnancy, in road traffic, in boating, in connection with sports and in working life. General policies directed at the whole population are not in conflict with actions aimed at influencing special groups.

4. Price, reduced availability and age limits are the most efficient policy tools
A high price on alcohol, reduced availability and age limits are the most efficient instruments, both in reducing the total consumption and in reducing problem drinking. The policy of restrictions is supported by modern alcohol research as the most efficient preventive alcohol policy. Also local alcohol policy must include actions that affect the environment, like for instance regulation of the number of alcohol outlets, age controls, alcohol checks in road traffic, rules against consumption of alcohol in public places and requirements that organisations that are supported by public funds must keep their activities free from alcohol.

5. Information is important, alcohol advertising should be as limited as possible
Information about the effects and risks of alcohol is important, but can not replace restrictions on availability. Alcohol advertising, on the other hand, should be avoided as far as possible. The health of the population is more important than the freedom of the commercial actors. Alcohol information is an important task for the state and for local and regional bodies in health education, health care and social services. This information shall not be influenced by the commercial alcohol industry. Rules against alcohol advertising crossing national borders should be as strong as those against tobacco advertising.

6. Alcohol is a losing affair for society
The reason to have an alcohol policy is humanitarian, to prevent humans from being harmed. But also economic reasons speak in favour of reduction of alcohol consumption. Alcohol related problems cause great costs to society, both for care and for damage to property, and in the form of reduced production, due to illness, low productivity and premature death. All attempts to defend increased alcohol consumption with arguments of employment or export incomes must be rejected. The costs of alcohol problems are just as great if they are exported to other countries.

7. Alcohol free zones
Alcohol should be avoided during childhood and adolescence, during pregnancy, in working life and in connection with sports. Local communities, voluntary organisations and commercial enterprises should cooperate to create and maintain these alcohol free zones.

8. Alcohol free traffic
Road traffic must be entirely free from alcohol. Therefore strict legislation and a large number of random breath tests are needed. Drivers with alcohol problems should be offered care as part of the court decision. All cars should be equipped with alcohol locks, which prevent driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving motor boats should be covered by the same sobriety rules as driving a car.

9. Care should be financed by public bodies, but can be carried out by others
The government has a responsibility to ensure that all persons, who are dependent on alcohol or harmed in other ways, are offered the care that they need. The care should be financed by public funds, but can be carried out by different organisations, both official and voluntary, or by other private operators. The state should also give professional education to those who work with alcohol related problems in different caring environments, based on the best available scientific knowledge.

10. Schools have an important role in prevention
Information about alcohol and other drugs, properly adapted to the age of the students, is an important task for the schools. But much more important is that the schools offer their students a good working environment, where the young persons are seen and appreciated, and with a relaxed atmosphere and good order, that the cooperation with the homes works well, and that the school reacts immediately when  a child is absent from school without a good cause. The school should also provide structured alcohol free leisure activities and good health care resources.

11. Alcohol research should be given increased resources
Free and independent research, which does not depend on money from the commercial alcohol industry, is important for the continued development of alcohol policy. Alcohol research should be given increased resources and should be cross disciplinary, with participation of researchers from social and behavioural sciences, medicine, economics, traffic research and other areas.

12. The influence of the commercial alcohol industry should be limited
The interest of the alcohol industry to increase sales and maximise profits for its owners is in conflict with the interest of society in good public health. Competition and private profit making interest are dynamic forces which lead to increased consumption and increased harm. This is a strong reason for keeping the commercial alcohol interests under control by public bodies, and not letting them influence alcohol policy. The state owned sales monopolies in several of the Nordic countries should be preserved and strengthened.

13. Strong voluntary organisations give good support to alcohol policy
An important part of preventing alcohol related harm and other social problems is to build strong voluntary organisations (NGOs=Non Governmental Organisations). Different popular movements offer alternatives to commercial enjoyment, which often is dominated by alcohol consumption. The temperance movement, and other citizens organisations in the drug field, should be strengthened as a counterweight to the lobbying activities of the alcohol industry with its vast economic resources.

14. The World Health Organisation needs support
The European Region of the WHO has adopted alcohol action plans that form a good base for preventive work. But the member states must give WHO-Europe increased resources to carry out the plans and to develop more knowledge and documentation in the field. The global WHO now has an important task to develop equally responsible and specific action plans for the world. A framework convention similar to the one on tobacco should be the long term goal.

15. Alcohol is no ordinary commodity
International trade agreements, for instance in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and economic cooperation in the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA), should not treat alcohol as an ordinary commodity. Free trade with goods and services, which is desirable in general, must not be regulated in a manner that prevents those states, who so wish, to carry out an active alcohol policy. Therefore, the EU member states must be given the right to decide on the rules governing traveller allowances, gifts and post packages of alcohol, and to control that these rules are followed, to mention one example. The minimum tax rates on alcoholic beverages in the EU must be raised, and every member state must have the right to decide on higher taxes, without being subject to the pressure of border trade from countries with lower taxes. International agreements in the service area should not be worded in a manner that can be used to force a country to permit alcohol advertising against its national policy. Alcohol should be excluded from the coming agreement on trade in services (GATS). States and international organisations must cooperate against smuggling and other illegal activities concerning alcohol.