01.01.2011 Alcohol control is making good progress, but is still far from its goal
National Programme Alcohol 2008–2012. «Those who drink alcohol do so in such a way that it is not harmful to them or to others». This is the vision of the National Programme Alcohol 2008–2012 (NPA), which the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Swiss Alcohol Board (SAB) were tasked in June 2008 with implementing. It is an ambitious programme that coordinates 33 activities, ten action areas and a diverse range of participating players. Where does the NPA stand today? Progress to date.
There has been a downward trend in the consumption of alcohol in Switzerland for decades. Per capita consumption has stagnated in the last few years at about 8.7 litres of pure alcohol a year, despite the recent slight rise in beer and spirits. More worrying than per capita consumption, however, are all the different forms of problem drinking. An estimated 300,000 people in Switzerland are considered to be alcohol-dependent. This condition is a cause of much human suffering and, because of its social consequences, generates high costs for society as a whole. In terms of alcohol policy, therefore, it is too soon to sound the all-clear.
Strict enforcement of regulations protecting young people
There is a particular need for action in the 15–24 age group. In contrast to the general trend, the proportion of high-risk drinkers in this age group has risen slightly. Efforts to protect young people are therefore focused on systematic enforcement of existing legislation. In October 2009, the SAB and the FOPH issued a practical manual with guidelines on conducting test purchases of alcohol with young people. In addition, the NPA finances various projects led by the SNYC (Swiss National Youth Council). For instance, youth association leaders are to receive special training to enhance their skills in dealing with drunkenness and risk behaviour among their young members and the issue is to be integrated into the youth associations’ existing structures. The NPA is also active at the school and family level. Under the leadership of Addiction Info Switzerland, services helping children from families with alcohol problems are being developed and both the public and professionals are being sensitised to the issue. Last but not least, various ideas for improving the protection of young people have been integrated into the revision of the Law on Alcohol. It is up to Parliament to decide whether these ideas will be accepted or not.
But for all the justified concern about young people, we must not lose sight of the problem of chronic alcohol consumption among the middle-aged, however much it is tacitly accepted, or among the elderly, however much it is played down. These problems will have to be addressed more vigorously in future.
Pushing ahead with research
«Alcohol in older people» is one of the FOPH’s planned studies, the results of which are expected to be published in summer 2011. An extensive network has already been put together for this study, and a website on the subject is being planned in addition to the study. A further FOPH study is to address the subject of alcohol-related costs at the workplace. The 2011 Addiction Monitoring in Switzerland will also be of great importance for future measures, as it will for the first time include questions on alcohol consumption and drinking habits.
Improving treatment and therapeutic measures
Treatment and therapeutic measures constitute an important area of action for the NPA. Under the leadership of Infodrog (Swiss Office for the Coordination of Addiction Facilities), activities aimed at improving treatment services for people with or at risk from alcohol-related health problems are currently being planned or carried out. They include a needs assessment of the corresponding institutions, ensuring professionals are qualified to conduct brief interventions, measures to safeguard the quality of structures, processes and outcomes in the treatment centres, and the availability of low-threshold drop-ins for alcohol-dependent people. In addition, an Internet portal is to be established that will enable people seeking help to find suitable treatment faster.
Stepping up cooperation with the cantons
The cantons are the main players in the NPA’s activities. Powers and responsibilities in the field of alcohol control are mostly in their hands. These include levying special commercial taxes, establishing shop-opening times and laying down regulations for advertising. One of the FOPH’s key tasks is to promote cooperation and exchanges among the cantons. In addition to the FOPH website’s map showing the alcohol policies of the different cantons, the annual KAP Conference (cantonal action plans on alcohol) has been initiated. It is aimed at all professionals who deal with alcohol policy-related issues in the different cantonal administrations. Besides the KAP Conference, «KAP-plus» events at which specific, needs-based know-how is offered were held in 2010.
Alcohol campaign: call for dialogue
The national basis for a sustainable alcohol control policy is in place and the groundwork has been completed. Now the different players have to join forces and get on with implementation. In addition, with alcohol as with other prevention fields, it is important to ensure the consistent support of both public and politicians for effective behaviour-related and structural prevention measures. To this end, the FOPH is currently developing an alcohol campaign based on a participative approach and focusing on dialogue. It will involve bottom-up action, i.e. activities that address the topic of alcohol in areas in which there is an actual problem and in the language employed by those affected. The new campaign will kick off during the three-nation dialogue week on the subject of alcohol from 21–29 May 2011.
Anyone interested can subscribe to the newsletter by sending an e-mail to email@example.com. Further information on the dialogue week and the alcohol campaign is available at www.ich-spreche-ueber-alkohol.ch.
The programme was drawn up in a broadly based participative process and is being implemented by a range of different players active in the area of alcohol prevention. The FOPH, the Swiss Alcohol Board, the Federal Commission for Problems linked to Alcohol and the cantonal health ministers are responsible for strategic management of the programme.
National Programme Alcohol 2008–2012: main features in brief
Vision: Those who drink alcohol do so in such a way that it is not harmful to them or to others.
Main goal A: Society, political circles and the economy are to be made aware of the particular vulnerability of children and teenagers to alcoholic beverages and they are to support appropriate measures to protect young people.
Main goal B: The population is to know the negative effects of the consumption of alcohol and to support appropriate measures to reduce these effects.
Main goal C: There is to be a reduction in problem consumption of alcohol (binge drinking, chronic drinking and consumption that is inappropriate for the situation).
Main goal D: There is to be a decrease in the number of people dependent on alcohol.
Main goal E: The negative effects of alcohol on those close to consumers and their direct social surroundings are to be considerably reduced.
Main goal F: The negative effects of the consumption of alcohol on social life and on the economy are to be markedly reduced.
Main goal G: Public and private sector players in the area of alcohol are to coordinate their activities and contribute together to the successful implementation of the National Programme Alcohol.
David Hess-Klein, Alcohol Section, firstname.lastname@example.org