The members of the Alcohol and Health Forum gathered in Brussels to discuss the impact of public awareness and information campaigns to reduce alcohol-related harm, and the various contributions of the digital media to communicating public health messages. EPHA participated in the meeting, which was chaired by DG SANCO, along with a number of EPHA’s members.
The main presentation was given by the Campaign for Smarter Drinking, a £100 million UK-based campaign aimed at encouraging 18-24 year olds to evaluate their drinking habits and, in the long term, change the social acceptability of drunkenness.
The campaign is led by the Drinkaware Trust, which is supported by voluntary donations from the alcohol industry. The campaign was launched alongside new research from Drinkaware which showed that one in three young adults (32%) claim they don’t need advice about alcohol. This is despite the fact that in the last twelve months, almost one in four (23%) had been ashamed of their appearance when drunk, 25% had not known how they got home, nearly one third (31%) had blacked out, one in 10 had been in a fight and just under half (48%) had vomited due to drinking too much.
The campaign was launched in the context of an economic recession and followed a recent duty increase for alcoholic beverages. The campaign managers stressed that this made industrial dialogue very difficult at the outset. Nevertheless, in the end 47 companies signed up to the initiative. The managers state that this indicates a pan-industry commitment to collaboration and coordination in the interest of reducing alcohol-related harm. The campaign targets consumer awareness and aims to contribute to positive attitudes towards moderate drinking. Despite the short duration of the campaign, the managers have conducted an evaluation and an audit of the campaign, finding that 30% of consumers recognise the logo and the messages. The campaign managers felt that there was reason to consider it a success, mentioning that the government had managed to achieve its objectives without legislating. Whereas this final point certainly needs to be debated in further depth, particularly in light of the Health Select Committee Report and the UK governments commitment to review its alcohol strategy, the campaign received some encouraging comments from the Forum members, including civil society organisations. The campaign’s commitment to harm reduction was recognised, although many called for an expansion of the target group.
The second topic of the day was the role of digital media. This is an area of expanding importance in the field of alcohol-related harm, including the impact and relationship between social marketing sites and mobile phones (among others) and commercial communication. Presentations from DG Information and Society introduced the ’Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU,’ which indicates that economic operators should not put alcohol promotional material on websites that wouldn’t be permitted in the print media and/or on television. The industry representatives in the Forum maintained that this is an innovative area for marketing, but it is an entirely legal media and the majority of advertisers use it responsibly. They did, however, concede that there are some environments that the industry do not have control over- particularly when linked to user-generated content. Civil society representatives emphasised that is it precisely this area- where this is a lack of control- that is key to the debate. Many noted the good work that has been conducted to regulate the activities of the gambling industry and to prevent minors from accessing gambling sites and suggested this be implemented in the field of alcohol control.
Robert Madelin, Director General DG SANCO, in his comments said that work on alcohol would be framed by the crisis and austerity agenda for the foreseeable future. He also said that the Alcohol and Health Forum would no doubt be influenced by the evaluation process currently under way for the Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health- the results of which are expected in July 2010. The new European Parliament and the new European Commission would also input and shape the EU’s work on alcohol.
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