Thursday, November 29, 2007

Alcohol and its discontents- Welcome notes for Alcohol conference today

A couple of weeks ago, our Ghanaian President, was involved in a near fatal accident when a drunk drove his car into the Presidential motorcade…Thankfully the President escaped unhurt.

I don’t know what would have remained of alcohol if our President had moved on to the next world.

Even then we heard very much from every one why alcohol, the main provocateur of the accident should be banned.

But then you and I know that it was not the normal drinking limit that caused that deranged driver to do what he did, but excess consumption of a substance possibly brewed from a backyard factory.

Nonetheless, our national regulator had severally called for responsible production, promotion and marketing of alcoholic beverages. Sometimes Industry and ordinary Ghanaians have misunderstood the role of the regulator and unfortunate situations such as banning alcoholic adverts have been resorted to.

Eventually, reason has prevailed over confusion and the main regulator, herein called the Food and Drugs Board has done what to me is fair. However, the FDB and Industry have been taken to court for doing the right thing and so I urge every one including the media not to dwell on the pros and cons of alcoholic beverage advertising today.

3 months ago IMANI held the first alcohol workshop. That workshop was to understand the mechanics of a national policy for alcohol. With the help of our key expert Dr. Keith Evans and Mr. Kwamena Van Ess of the FDB, We learnt significantly that

1. Alcohol policy design must be based on the best available evidence and a balance between the rights and responsibilities of all those whom the policies will affect

2. There is an increasing recognition that an adversarial approach between the key players in not the most efficient or effective way of proceeding. Collaboration rather than conflict should be the underlying principle.

3. Alcohol should be regulated “Because it is a commodity with a potential for harm as well as good, it is reasonable to expect it to be regulated so that its beneficial effects are maximized and its harmful effects minimized. In this, it is far from unique. Many other commodities, from motor vehicles to pharmaceuticals, require similar balancing acts.’’

Today, we want to build on what has been learnt with wider stakeholder participation. We would hear respectively from the Ministries of Trade and Health “How an Alcohol Policy could affect Trade and Revenue for the State” and “How an Alcohol Policy can help mitigate abuse of alcoholic beverages”

Their presentations would be followed by Dr’ Keith Evans’ response, then we do lunch, come back into break away groups moderated by Keith Evans and with the help of Mr. Mitch Ramsay and Mr. Damon Ansell.

For those of you who are here for the first time, I’d like to say a few words about our key speaker Dr. Keith Evans. There is an extensive biography of his attached to your schedules.

Keith has tertiary qualifications in psychology, psychotherapy, public health and public administration and has worked in the areas of alcohol and drug policy, mental health and public health in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia for the past 25 years.

Since January 2005 Keith has been Chief Executive Office/Executive Director of Drug & Alcohol Services, South Australia and Principal Advisor, Drugs Policy to the Government of South Australia.

From 2002-2004 Keith was Chair of the Australian Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs. In this role Keith was responsible for the conduct of a review into alcohol advertising and youth drinking culture. Keith also had responsibility for providing advice to the Australian Government on the development and implementation of standard drinks labelling and an associated mass-media public information/education campaign. During this time a new national alcohol strategy was developed and implemented focusing on harm reduction, changing drinking patterns and influencing drinking cultures.

Keith has been traveling around the world and has spent significant amount of time within Africa to help countries design good alcohol policies. We are happy to host Keith again and to thank his able sidekick, Mr. Mitch Ramsay who is Policy Adviser for SAB Miller Africa and Asia for taking time off to join us again.

We also have Mitch’s opposite number for Diageo, Mr. Damon Ansell with us here as well. My appreciation also goes to all top Industry representatives here today and special mention to Diageo, GGBL, SABMILLER, ABL, West Coast Beverage who are leading the process for a self-regulatory industry in Ghana with the assurance that Kasapreko, Barons, Cape Trading, Gihoc Distilleries, Tata , Silver Spring and Socaf Beverages will be able players.

We are grateful to the FDB whose efficient directors are here today for accepting to join us. And of course, our deepest appreciation goes to the Ministers of Health and Trade for showing support to this all important process. I should mention that Br. Keith Evans will also act as Chairman as he would be responding to the various presentations and attendee comments.

I will now call on The Honourable Minister for Trade to make his first presentation. Thank you.

Franklin Cudjoe, IMANI Director

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