Generally speaking, Éduc’alcool agrees with the main thrust of the WHO’s Global Alcohol Action Plan (in French: Plan d’action mondial contre l’alcool), provided the following points are considered.

  1. It is essential to distinguish products that carry a risk, such as alcohol, from products that are harmful, such as tobacco. Whatever is true about tobacco cannot simply be applied to alcohol. Alcohol must be treated as a product that carries a risk, and what we must work together to combat is harmful drinking, which depends on how much and how frequently one drinks. Alcohol should be neither trivialized nor demonized.
  2. The French title of the action plan is inappropriate.* The global strategy is intended to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, not to declare war on alcohol. The use of the phrase contre l’alcool in French is not in keeping with WHO strategy.
  3. The WHO approach is more nuanced than in the past, particularly as regards the focus on the specific characteristics of each region, the need to adapt policies to different objective situations, different cultures and different drinking models, which can vary dramatically from one country to the next and even within a given country.
  4. The plan’s eight guiding principles should be supported, and a ninth should be added: all policies and action taken must a priori have been subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation that takes a holistic view of the effects of alcohol as a function of drinking habits (drinking frequency and amount consumed).
  5. The WHO says that one factor contributing to the increase in the rate of abstinence among young people “is the increasing awareness of…alcohol’s causal relationships with some types of cancer, liver and cardiovascular diseases…” This statement is unfounded. Teenagers are known for not projecting very far into the future: they are not quitting drinking now because they are worried about developing cancer 50 years down the road. In fact, the decline in drinking can be explained by education campaigns and, unfortunately, the increased amount of time young people are spending on social media, gaming, and doing other screen-related activities.
  6. There is no silver bullet, no single miracle remedy that will solve all the problems by itself. The notion that SAFER is the absolute, final, indisputable solution is simplistic. It is universally acknowledged that progress is achieved only through a constellation of measures at different levels, with contributions from all stakeholders.
  7. The goal to reduce drinking should target excessive drinkers, not moderate drinkers. An extremist, moralizing approach must be avoided, as it has an adverse effect on those who drink alcohol with no significant harmful consequences.
  8. The labels on alcoholic beverages should feature nothing but factual information: ingredients, calorie content, and number of standard servings in the container. Simplistic, unnuanced “health warnings” do not belong on any label. They are completely ineffective when it comes to changing behaviour. 83% of Quebecers are aware that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer, without such information ever having appeared on any product label. It is far more effective to appeal to people’s intelligence.
  9. Guidelines for marketing and promoting alcoholic products are absolutely essential. Rules must be developed in cooperation with industry members, in order to encourage them to follow those rules. If necessary, sanctions must be imposed when the rules are not followed. Such sanctions must be greater than the impact on society of the failure to comply.
  10. The action plan should be clearer about the technical support the WHO could provide with regard to managing and regulating online marketing practices, specifically as concerns the development of technological tools and strategies to regulate online marketing.
  11. Studies must be done on the costs and benefits of various measures to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol. But any measure recommended must necessarily be accompanied by a warning regarding any associated adverse effects.
  12. It is a good idea to solicit funds from the alcoholic beverage industry to conduct research or to apply policies that can benefit all, but such funding must be strictly governed by clear non-interference rules, as well as safeguards to guarantee the integrity and rigour of the research results.

* Our comments are made based on a reading of the French version of the action plan: “Plan d’action mondial contre l’alcool 2022-2030 pour renforcer la mise en œuvre de la Stratégie mondiale visant à réduire l’usage nocif de l’alcool.” The word contre means against, a word that does not appear in the English title: “Global alcohol action plan 2022-2030 to strengthen implementation of the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol.” The phrase contre l’alcool appears 22 times in the French version, but against alcohol (or a similar phrase conveying the sense of “against”) does not appear once in the English version. If the English is the original version, then the French translation has been badly executed. If the French is the original, then a decision was made to omit against alcohol (or a similar phrase) in English. Either way, if the true sense of the action plan is not to combat alcohol, but to combat harmful drinking, then the French title needs to be modified, along with the other occurrences of the phrase contre l’alcool (with the exception of contre l’alcool au volant).