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Eurocare’s June conference left the Oslo Declaration on alcohol harm, which has so far gathered over 80 signatories, making it a powerful tool for everyone advocating evidence-based alcohol policy change.
Conferences are typically great places to dive deep into the detail and compare thoughts. But what conferences typically do less well is explore consensus, which means they leave little to remember them by. Eurocare’s team was keen to avoid this being the fate of its post-pandemic Oslo gathering in June.
“We wanted our conference to have a lasting legacy in reducing alcohol harm,” says Eurocare’s Secretary General Florence Berteletti. “Successes in tobacco control, in which I played a part, came because the NGO community spoke with a single, powerful, united voice. Alcohol now has to do the same thing. The Oslo Declaration is the beginning.”
The Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) came together in 1999 with more than 500 tobacco control organisations uniting in support of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Ratified in 2003 the framework was the first modern day public health treaty, now legally binding in 181 countries.
The unity among tobacco control NGOs showed there was clear expert consensus on policy, making it obvious when policymakers were listening to the evidence and when they were not. This clarity helped everyone in tobacco control everywhere.
The Oslo Declaration’s seven calls for policy action brings a similar level of clarity to alcohol policy (see italics below). And, for anyone unaware of the reasons for them, its preamble sets out the level of alcohol harmin Europe, which the covid lockdown made more acute.
The seven Oslo Declaration calls
1. National governments and the EU should regulate alcohol based on the WHO’s evidence-based Global Alcohol Action Plan to achieve its ambitious targets by 2030
2. National governments should cooperate to implement the evidence-based WHO Best Buys and SAFER recommendations, focussed on price, availability and marketing of alcohol
3. EU level regulation should reflect public support for mandatory ingredient, nutrition declaration and warning labels on alcohol products, so empowering properly informed consumer decisions
4. National governments and the EU should make sure that health policy-making processes are protected from alcohol industry interference
5. National governments should tax alcohol products related to alcohol content. This should be index-linked and increased regularly in line with economic and health indicators
6. National governments should restrict or ban the marketing exposure of alcohol products, particularly to young people and children and other vulnerable groups
7. Governments should recognise and support the pivotal role of civil society organisations in preventing and reducing alcohol harm
A short series of side meetings of a committee of influential health and youth NGOs were enough to draft the calls. The unity was not forced. The broad areas of agreement overwhelmed any differences on detail. The only difficulty was expressing them clearly.
The Oslo Declaration has taken on a life of its own since June, gathering support well beyond the specialist alcohol sphere (see charts). A full 17% of its signatories are medical associations, among them the European Society of Cardiology, the Standing Committee of European Doctors, EASL and UEG. Nearly 30% also deal with other addictions, while 10% are primarily focussed on research.
Supporters from a wide range of fields can use the declaration to show their position on alcohol policy is in line with the consistent expert consensus. This is already helping Eurocare in its core business of lobbying the EU for all health information and warnings to be on label, the third call in the declaration.
The declaration’s calls to action are so clear that policy makers have to take them seriously. This means declaration signatories of all shapes and sizes can use it as a powerful tool in advocacy work. Any organisation looking to further citizen’s health and rights can benefit from supporting the declaration.
We can now ask: Why would anyone truly interested in the welfare of citizens not implement the Oslo Declaration’s seven calls for action? This is a question Eurocare and, doubtless, many others will be asking in the months and years to come.