On 2 March 2016, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), Alcohol Focus Scotland and Eurocare held a joint event in Edinburgh to discuss alcohol policy in Scotland and Ireland. They subsequently published the proceedings of the event in Alcohol policy in Scotland and Ireland: European trailblazers or Celtic fringes?1 The event came about as governments in both countries promoted policies that focused on increasing the price of alcohol, reducing its availability, and restricting its marketing. Similarly, both governments were seen to face sustained opposition from global alcohol producers in implementing these policies.
The published proceedings contain the five papers presented on the day and notes from the final discussion session.
‘Europe and alcohol: challenges and opportunities’, Marian Skar, Eurocare: The European Alcohol Policy Alliance
Eurocare’s main goal is to raise awareness among EU decision-makers about the social, health and economic harms caused by alcohol. They aim to ensure that these harms are taken into consideration in all relevant EU policy discussions. Their second main goal is to promote evidence-based policies aimed at ‘effectively preventing and reducing the burden of alcohol’. Based on the World Health Organization’s strategy, Eurocare’s motto is ‘less is better’. Skar highlighted that there is no current EU alcohol strategy. Despite the European Parliament passing a resolution on the alcohol strategy, she thought it ‘highly doubtful’ that one would result. However, she described European-level non-governmental organisation (NGO) collaboration on alcohol as ‘good’ and recommended that they focus on cross-border issues. She also spoke about alcohol pricing, marketing and advertising regulations, consumer information, drink driving, and data gathering and monitoring.
‘Monitoring and evaluating Scotland’s alcohol strategy (MESAS) 2016: evaluating Scottish alcohol policy’, Clare Beeston, NHS Health Scotland
Scotland has a multi-component alcohol strategy that makes its evaluation difficult. Beeston described the theory of change approach underpinning the evaluation and its strengths and weaknesses. She also identified a number of conclusions that could be drawn from the evaluation. It found a decline in population consumption of alcohol between 2009 and 2012, as well as a reduction in alcohol-related death rates and hospitalisations since their peak in the mid-2000s. Overall, MESAS found that the implementation of the alcohol strategy has led to some positive change in intermediate outcomes. However, she also expressed concern about the finding that alcohol consumption is flattening and that there has been no further decline in mortality or morbidity in the last two years.
‘Whisky galore? Policy challenges and priorities in Scotland’, Alison Douglas, chief executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland
Douglas described the pattern of alcohol consumption in Scotland, highlighting the widespread harms experienced in particular in deprived communities. She argued that in terms of cost-effectiveness of interventions to reduce consumption and harm, the three ‘best buys’ were to take action on alcohol pricing, availability and marketing. They were to be seen as mutually reinforcing and should therefore be implemented ‘collectively’.
‘Finding the right measure? Policy challenges and priorities in Ireland’, Suzanne Costello, chief executive, Alcohol Action Ireland
Costello described Irish alcohol consumption patterns, emphasising that ‘binge drinking is a real problem in Ireland’. Alcohol-related harms were highlighted, including alcohol-related deaths, and their role in deaths by suicide in Ireland. Addressing Ireland’s drinking ‘culture’ was described as presenting a particular challenge. As with previous speakers, she identified alcohol pricing, availability, consumer information, and advertising and marketing as requiring action if consumption and harms were to be addressed. These reflected some of the key elements of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 that was described, including the use of product labels to contain a link to a public health website providing information on alcohol and its related harms. She concluded that at the time of presenting, the Irish political landscape was ‘much more favourable to health issues’.
Compiled by Lucy Dillon
1 Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (2016) Alcohol policy in Scotland and Ireland: European trailblazers or Celtic fringes? Edinburgh: Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26101/