News Release

February 3, 2004

Contact: Patrick Keefe, 860-679-2447

Public Health Experts Target Alcohol as 'No Ordinary Commodity'

FARMINGTON, Conn. – Fifteen alcohol and addiction experts from around the world have collaborated in producing a book that is likely to become the standard manual for alcohol policy interventions at the local, national and international levels.

The book, “Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity – Research and Public Policy,” was published by Oxford University Press. The first author is Thomas Babor, Ph.D., M.P.H., who is professor and head of the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

At its core, the book is a scientific treatise on alcohol policy, why policy is needed and how it is made, which interventions are effective, and how scientific evidence can inform the policy-making process.

The book is sponsored by the World Health Organization, which has been increasingly concerned about the global burden of disease connected with the misuse of beverage alcohol. The book first presents new epidemiological data on the effects of alcohol on human populations and then deals with the scientific basis for effective alcohol policy. It shows how good policies can be made with particular attention to reducing the harm alcohol causes.

Dr. Babor said two things need to happen to reduce alcohol’s world-wide adverse impact.

“First, we need to recognize that alcohol is no ordinary commodity,” he said. “It is a major health risk factor injuries, psychiatric problems and alcohol-related diseases. WHO reports that of 26 major risk factors (including physical inactivity, overeating, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, tobacco smoking and drug use), alcohol ranks No. 3 in the developed countries and first in developing countries like China. Clearly, it should not be treated as an ordinary commodity,” he said.

“Second, we need to look at effective alcohol policies supported by scientific evidence. Our book reviews the scientific literature on 31 strategies and interventions used around the world to prevent alcohol problems,” he said. “Interventions with the most empirical support include alcohol taxes, drunk driving laws, age restrictions on alcohol purchases, and limits on the physical availability of alcohol.”

Attempts to control alcohol problems are almost as old as is the act of drinking itself. The Code of Hammurabi in ancient Babylonia 4,000 years ago regulated alcohol consumption through taxes and serving regulations. Dr. Babor said the book should be viewed in that same light.

“We’re continuing in a long tradition of suggesting sensible controls on alcohol consumption,” he said. “And we’re adding to it scientific evidence pointing to the most effective alcohol policies, such as controlling the drinking environment, having bar and restaurant people trained so that they don’t serve intoxicated patrons, and drinking and driving countermeasures, among others.”

Industry has a role in controlling the harmful effects of alcohol, the authors assert, and industry’s efforts could be more effective if they supported evidence-based policies.

“We can accept at its face value that the alcoholic beverage industry supports some alcohol abuse prevention measures,” Dr. Babor said. “Unfortunately, they don’t pay as much attention to the scientific evidence as they should, and they put their resources into generally ineffective measures like alcohol education in the schools and colleges.”

He said industry reallocation of resources to support initiatives such as increased restrictions on hours and days of sale, restricted alcohol advertising and drinking and driving countermeasures, would be likely to have much more beneficial effects on society then their current efforts.

The book was published in mid-October and has been featured at national policy conferences in Australia, Switzerland, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Authors include Raul Caetano, M.D., University of Texas School of Public Health; Sally Casswell, Ph.D., Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand; Griffith Edwards, D.M., National Addiction Centre, London; Norman Giesbrecht, Ph.D., Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto; Kathryn Graham, Ph.D., University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario; Joel Grube, Ph.D., Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Berkeley, Calif.; Paul Grunewald, Ph.D., Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Berkeley, Calif.; Linda Hill, Ph.D., New Zealand Drug Foundation, Auckland.; Harold Holder, Ph.D., Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Berkeley, Calif.; Ross Homel, Ph.D., Griffith University, Queensland, Australia; Esa Osterberg, M.Sc., Center for Welfare and Health, Helsinki, Finland; Jurgen Rehm, Ph.D., University of Toronto; Robin Room, Ph.D., Stockholm University, Sweden; and Ingeborg Rossow, Ph.D., National Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research, Oslo, Norway.

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