Advancing Public Health in International Alcohol Control

Melbourne / 3 October 2019

In October leading international alcohol-policy experts gathered in Melbourne at a public forum, Advancing Public Health in International Alcohol Control, to examine options for the future global governance of alcohol and the role Australia should play.

The forum was held as the World Health Organization set out to consult with its member states and more generally about ways forward on alcohol policy internationally, ten years after having adopted its Global Strategy on alcohol.  The outcome of these consultations will be decided on at the World Health Assembly in May 2020.

Alcohol is a global health issue. The sources of the harm (especially in the form of global alcohol industry conduct) cross borders, and the potential solutions to these problems increasingly require international innovation and solidarity through global governance. Yet alcohol is the great exception among problematic psychoactive substances in not being covered by any public health-oriented international drug control conventions.

Urgent action is needed by governments to control the marketing, labelling and availability of alcohol given the growing evidence about the burden of disease and premature mortality associated with alcohol use.

On behalf of the event organising committee, the Kettil Bruun Society and sponsoring organisations, the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR), the Centre for Health Law and Society (CHLS) La Trobe University, the University of Melbourne, Vic Health and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, we bring you video highlights showcasing the featured speakers, comprehensive video coverage of the event, together with a statement presented at the event which highlights the need for a legally-binding global instrument committing countries and resources to effective approaches to reducing alcohol-related harm.

Video Highlights

Professor David Jernigan on global efforts in leveraging the  ‘best buys’ to reduce alcohol harm. Duration: 1 min 23 sec.

Professor Sally Casswell says Public Health is  in a race against time. The industry is doing everything it can to prevent good policy in developing nations while normalising alcohol consumption and positioning themselves as part of the solution. Duration: 1 min.

Professor Kypros Kypri says Government are making policy interventions but too often don’t acknowledge them as opportunities to increase knowledge and as a result fail to learn. Duration: 1 min 30 sec.

Lucinda Westerman says there’s been good progress to put alcohol harm on the UN agenda through the noncommunicable diseases global plan, but more can be done to end preventable suffering and death around the world. Duration: 45 sec.

Maik Dunnbier on agency and empowerment. Duration: 1 min 43 sec.

Trish Hepworth on the international food standards body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, and how FARE and other public health groups can capitalise on opportunities to take global leadership on alcohol policy issues. Duration: 40 sec.

Professor Gian Luca Burci on international legal instruments for controlling alcohol. Duration: 5 min 30 sec.


Full Event Coverage

Dr Sandro Demaio (00:00:00), Deborah Gleeson (00:05:40), Professor David Jernigan (00:12:14), Trish Hepworth (00:24:21), Professor Kypros Kypri (00:30:03), Professor Sally Casswell (00:33:57), Dr Belinda Townsend (00:39:52), Q & A session (00:45:53), Professor David Jernigan (01:03:40), Orratai Waleewong (01:06:09), Lucinda Westerman (01:12:00), Maik Dunnbier (01:16:09), Q&A and discussion (01:22:25), Michael Thorn (02:02:26), Professor David Jernigan (02:09:16)

Statement: Advancing Public Health in International Alcohol Control

Melbourne, 3 October 2019

Alcohol is the seventh leading risk factor for death and disability worldwide, causing three million deaths per year. It is the leading cause of death and disability for 15-49 year-olds, causing damage to families and economies in the most productive years of life.

Alcohol has received increased interest at the global level since 2005, culminating in the passage of a Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol by the World Health Assembly in 2010. In the context of the World Health Organization’s larger programme of work on non-communicable diseases, WHO has reviewed the evidence base and identified the most effective and cost-effective ways forward to address alcohol use and problems, and called on countries to take voluntary steps to implement these.

At the same time, alcohol policies have evolved largely at the behest of commercial and trade interests, and with little attention to public health or to the abrogation of global human rights agreements protecting the general right to health and the specific rights of vulnerable populations, including women, young people, indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities.


The lack of a global sense of urgency, and the insignificant resources that have been devoted to implementation of the strategy, suggest that a completely different approach is needed. In view of this, we, the undersigned, declare that:

The alcohol industry has repeatedly demonstrated their irreconcilable conflict of interest with public health goals, as businesses that profit from the sale of alcoholic products. In light of this, governments at every level must act to protect public health laws and policies from commercial and other vested interests of the alcohol industry.

Trade and other commercial agreements should be drafted in a way that protects the rights of national governments to introduce public health measures related to alcohol for the benefit of their citizens. Governments should defend evidence-based alcohol control measures, and respect the rights of other nations to implement such measures.

There is a need for a legally-binding, global instrument committing countries and resources to effective approaches to reducing alcohol-related harm. 

Concrete steps should be taken to move towards effective global governance of the alcohol industry, to safeguard the rights of young people, women and other groups particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related harm, and to protect the right of all people to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

As researchers, we commit to continuing to create and translate into practice knowledge that can inform efforts to reduce the harm caused by alcoholic products. As members of civil society, we commit to publicizing and advocating for the implementation of the strongly evidence-based strategies identified by WHO.

We call on national governments and non-state actors without conflicts of interest to make a similar commitment to take decisive, concerted and sufficiently-resourced action at national and global levels to develop appropriate instruments and sufficient resources to stem the rising tide of alcohol consumption and problems worldwide.