Public health, NGOs and Industry: Search for convergence at the Éduc’alcool conference at Vinexpo 2011

Bordeaux, June 2011 — An expert panel, exceptional lectures, the search for convergence, without hiding disagreements, to promote moderate consumption and prevent problems associated with alcohol abuse—this is what has emerged at the conference organized by Éduc’alcool on June 20, as part of Vinexpo. This significant symposium of reflection and perspectives on the major issues called upon not only the actors in the field of public health, but also prevention organizations and wine producers.

Moderated by Cécile Bassot, Managing Director of Sopexa Group, the conference enabled the emergence of further points of view on burning issues that are crucial for consumers and the population at large.

Following a welcoming address by Robert Beynat, Commissioner General of Vinexpo, Professor Louise Nadeau, Chair of Éduc’alcool, evoked the main aspects of the World Health Organization’s alcohol strategy and reaffirmed the international organization’s expectations of producers, as well as the contribution they are called upon to provide in the fight against alcohol’s harmful effects. She concluded by inviting participants to build bridges in carrying out this objective.

For Professor Joël de Leiris, of Grenoble’s Université Joseph Fourier, who expressed a physiologist’s scientific point of view, there are certainly risks associated with alcohol, but also protective effects linked to moderate consumption. With convincing supportive data, he indicated that numerous studies suggest the existence of a pro-carcinogenic effect of consuming alcoholic drinks that can appear following long periods (long-term effect) of excessive alcohol consumption (dose effect).

However, he also established that regular, moderate consumption of alcoholic drinks reduces all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality. The moderate consumption of wine is linked to a significant curtailment in the risk of post-infarction recurrence (secondary prevention).

For his part, Doctor Michel Craplet, of the Centre hospitalier de Saint-Cloud, the ANPAA and Eurocare, launched an appeal to remove the Manichaeism when it’s a question of alcohol. He outlined the representation of alcohol through the ages and civilizations, and brought out the Manicaeistic views of alcohol that no one can escape: alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic drinks, good or bad practices, good or bad consumers, etc.

He revealed consequences for prevention in alcohology: biological and psychological effects, immediate and delayed effects, before offering solutions and perspectives: accept the complexity and show the two sides of the alcohol totem. Is it possible to consume your passion with moderation? Yes, so long as you can talk about it, he concluded.

Jose Ramon Fernandez, Secretary General of the Comité vins de l’Union européenne, revealed the direction and achievements of the Wine in Moderation, Art de Vivre program, which is part of the European Union’s Alcohol and Health Forum. He reviewed the numerous actions taken in this direction on both the European front and by the various member countries, to reaffirm the essential role the wine industry plays in the prevention of problems associated with alcohol abuse.

He reasserted the involvement of the wine industry in promoting responsible, reasonable consumption before concluding with the main challenges to overcome in the future: the widening of fields of intervention, the establishment of better practices, the coordination of actions, the communication with consumers, and the setting up of partnerships with authorities in the health sector.

Starting with the situation that prevails in his country, Michel Graf, Director of Addiction Info Switzerland noted several restrictions he finds necessary to impose on the marketing of alcohol. He illustrated his topic with examples of largely uncontested measures, notably regarding road safety, but he also put forth elements that have created significant disagreement, most notably in the areas of restriction of freedoms contrary to the necessity of protecting the most vulnerable, and restrictions of access and the appeal of alcohol, which he advocates.

However, he also noted alcohol’s “balance of costs”: 6.5 billion Swiss Francs in social costs associated with abuse, and 8 million in revenue. He concluded by inviting further dialogue and envisaged joining together for a cause, but noted that it is, in the Swiss context, more difficult to put into action.

For his part, Hubert Sacy, Director General of Éduc’alcool, Quebec, shared a collaborative experience he had with the people involved in the alcohol domain in Canada and the public health sector, by way of governments, NGOs and producers, to determine a common message on low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines. Emphasizing that perfect is the enemy of good, he indicated the conditions that made it possible to reach a large consensus: avoid moralizing and political affairs; focus on science without any interference.

That’s how recognized scientific experts came to establish the standards that everyone has committed to promote. Of course, he recognizes there have been multiple pitfalls and obstacles. But ultimately, on the basis of the cornerstones agreed to put forth, it was possible to deliver the same message in the same way. He concluded his talk by presenting the Éduc’alcool campaign, which promotes these consumption levels.

It was on this optimistic, realistic note that following an exchange moderated by Cécile Bassot, Louise Nadeau was able take from each one of the lectures converging elements holding the best perspectives for the future.

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For the complete presentations of the conference, write to hsacy@educalcool.qc.ca