Alcohol makes a substantial contribution to injury, disease and death worldwide, but it is the only psychoactive substance in common use that is not controlled internationally, write Laura Schmidt and colleagues from Australia, Canada, Finland, and the US.
Tobacco is controlled by the 2005 framework convention, narcotic drugs by the 1961 convention and psychoactive substances by the 1971 convention, there are even doping conventions for psychoactive substances used as performance enhancers in sport.
The globalisation of the alcohol trade has reduced the ability of nations to manage alcohol related harms through controls on marketing and availability and tax policies, say the authors.
In addition, policymakers continue to use public information campaigns and education programmes to control alcohol related harms despite evidence that they are only marginally effective, while ignoring strong evidence that taxation and restricting the availability, marketing and distribution of alcohol are what works.
The authors believe that a convention would place restraints on the international trade in alcohol and would help legislators and governments learn about and implement effective evidence based policies on alcohol control.
In addition, the development of a secretariat would ensure the effectiveness of the convention by establishing, for example, a clearing house of information on evidence based approaches which could be shared between countries.
International agreements are urgently needed to protect public health, state the authors.
They point out that the considerable health and social harms alcohol causes disproportionately affect the poorest populations of the world. Increasing affluence in the fastest developing regions of the world such as South Asia, has led to increased alcohol consumption and its associated harms in these nations.
The untapped markets of developing countries such as Africa and South America may well experience similar problems and harms in the future. This is why, conclude the authors, that it is timely to apply the model of the framework convention on tobacco control to alcohol.