The event held at Dublin’s Mansion House was organised to highlight the strategies and approaches used by dominant vested interests across Europe who market unhealthy commodities such as alcohol, processed food and drink, and tobacco and exert influence to impede policy barriers and deflect attention from an ever-rising pandemic of non-communicable diseases and increasing health inequalities.
Over the last ten years in Ireland, Alcohol Action Ireland has been to the fore in advancing the need for public policy to address Ireland’s harmful relationship with alcohol and fought a long hard battle against the alcohol industry to see the enactment of the Public Health Alcohol Act last year.
In a keynote address, Fiona Godfrey, Secretary General European Public Health Alliance spoke on Public health in the EU, 2020 to 2024: Business as usual or will the EU finally start walking the walk?
Commenting on the impact and the potential of a new Commission in Brussels, Ms. Godfrey said:
“Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission Vice President, has announced that it can no longer be “business as usual” in Brussels over the next five years. That’s good news because EU politics and policies have to change. After almost two decades of lost good health because of big industry influence in Brussels EU citizens are demanding that the Commission, the European Parliament and EU Member States up their game and start to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. We are done with nice words and bad health: People and public health must be put before multinational profits.”
In a wide ranging discussion that followed, chaired by Alex White SC, and a former Minister for Primary Care at the Department of Health, and featuring three guests: Dr Peter Rice – Chair, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD also a former Minister for Health Promotion and Dr Norah Campbell – Associate Professor in Marketing, Trinity College a number of interesting observations were made:
Peter Rice speaking about the successful implementation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol products in Scotland in 2018, reflected on the scale of the challenge faced in addressing alcohol related deaths in Scotland, the dominance of cheap alcohol in the off-trade market and the tortuous battle with the alcohol industry who sought every available legal challenge to prevent the measures introduction.
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy outlined her experience as Minister for Health Promotion (2016-17) during a crucial phase of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill journey through the Houses of Oireachtas, the nature of the intense lobbying by numerous parties and the reach of commercial interests.
Norah Campbell focused on the sophisticated strategies of alcohol marketing, the capacity of alcohol brands to ‘hijack’ many myths, explored how persuasive these strategies can be and outlined the need for public health professionals to become marketing literate; to unpick the ideology and focus on building alternative hedonisms to counter the myth.
Commenting on the day’s discussion, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications and Advocacy, Alcohol Action Ireland, said:
“Corporate influence is exerted not just through marketing that enhances the acceptability of unhealthy commodities but also through extensive lobbying of our political systems from the lowest entry to the highest office, and much lauded corporate social responsibility strategies that deflect attention from dubious commercial endeavour that prioritises wealth creation over health creation. The obvious conflict between shareholder value maximisation and population health highlights the need for progressive public policy that favours the good of all citizens.
Today’s event was timely as it marked the legal operation of some small but significant measures within the Public Health Alcohol Act. This is an outcome of ten long years of conflict with the alcohol industry over the need to curb the marketing and promotion of alcohol in Ireland.
This battle continues as the major measures with the Act have yet to be commenced and face the constant pressure from industry to government to postpone or delay their implementation.
While measures to restrict the placement of alcohol adverts will be beneficial and protect our children from excessive exposure to alcohol advertising, the commencement of controls on the content of alcohol advertising is crucial. Were it operational, it would further deprive alcohol brands of the fertile ground of storytelling and place the control of content in a statutory code, ridding the marketplace of impotent voluntary advertising codes.”