On March 10th, a number of global experts will join the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network in launching a new initiative designed to challenge and resist the growing influence and impact that the alcohol industry is having on health and wellbeing. The I-Mark is a brand, a logo and a social movement which aims to build solidarity and visibility across the community, voluntary and charity sectors in Ireland in regard to non-collaboration with the alcohol industry. Speaking ahead of the launch, Paula Leonard from Alcohol Forum Ireland highlighted how the initiative was developed in response to concerns across communities in Ireland:
“Five years ago, when we formed the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network (ICAAN), we were very concerned about the activities of the alcohol industry and alcohol industry funded organisations in attempting to influence health policy. They have no expertise in delivering programmes to our children in schools, but they are good at promoting their brand names so that our children and their parents form a good impression of them. They have no expertise in distributing health information about alcohol, but they do have good reasons to minimize the harms from their products. And they have no expertise in promoting research on alcohol, but their funding of scientists does create a conflict of interest that interferes with the development of unbiased science. What they are good at is finding ways to interfere with effective alcohol policies that will reduce the excessive amounts of drinking by our youth and adults. In those early years we struggled; focusing on the power, the resources and influence of the industry. But over the last year, we committed to building a movement to challenge the industry influence and we are so proud to be launching the ‘I-Mark: Supporting Independence from Alcohol Industry Influence’ on March 10th’.
ICAAN is part of a growing global movement that is working to reduce the influence of the alcohol industry on health and the I-Mark has gained a lot of attention globally, even before it officially launches on March 10th. It was presented at the first World Assembly on Community Action on Alcohol in Jan and ICAAN have since had several approaches from organisations in other countries, exploring how they might adopt and roll out this initiative. ICAAN have also been invited to present on this work at the European Alcohol Policy Conference in Norway later in the year.
Despite the global interest, ICAAN’s priority is to build the I-Mark here at home, in Ireland. The initiative has been welcomed by many civil society organisations. To date, nine Local and Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Forces have signed up, showing great leadership on this agenda. Other early adopters of the I-Mark include the national charity Alcohol Forum Ireland; ENDpae, an organisation comprised of birth, foster and adoptive families impacted by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; and the Rise Foundation, an organisation established to support families impacted by addiction. Several other national and local charities have expressed an interest and ICAAN are confident that the numbers of participating organisations will grow following the launch next week.
The support from global experts and the interest from organisations outside of Ireland highlights the growing awareness and concern globally about the increasing corporate influence of the alcohol industry. The initiative will be officially launched by global expert, editor of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and co-author of ‘Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity’, Professor Thomas Babor. Professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Mark Petticrew, who has published widely on the activities of the alcohol industry, and Maik Duennbier, director of strategy and advocacy at Movendi International will also give inputs on the day.
At a global level, the alcohol industry is increasingly attempting to enter into partnerships with Governments, health services and NGO’s as part of their global “corporate social responsibility” strategy, which is designed to protect their commercial interests at the expense of the public’s health.. Here in Ireland, the alcohol industry funds a range of initiatives including research and schools-based education. In 2015 Diageo announced funding of one million euros for its ‘Stop out of Control Drinking’ Campaign. An academic review of this campaign concluded: ‘In discussing solutions to alcohol related problems it focuses on public opinion rather than scientific evidence, and on educational approaches and information provision misrepresenting these as effective’ (Petticrew et al). The proactive campaign by industry interests to oppose the effective measures outlined in the Public Health Alcohol Act is further evidence of their activities here.
The I-Mark includes a toolkit which has been developed as a resource to empower and support organisations to build understanding of and independence from the influence of the alcohol industry. It also provides a useful check list of questions for organisations to work through when and if they may be considering using industry funded educational resources or accepting funding from the alcohol industry. Participating organisations commit to displaying the I-Mark brand, and refusing to enter into partnerships with or accept funding from the alcohol industry or any of its funded charities.
Paula Leonard, National Lead, Community Action on Alcohol
Mobile: 087 1839573