The Word of Wisdom is often interpreted as a code for healthy living motivated by the ‘evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days’. Alcohol is major risk factor for many non-communicable diseases, which account for two-thirds of all deaths globally. Alcohol-attributable mortality is 2.5 million (4% of all deaths) every year, more than the number attributed to HIV/AIDS or Tuberculosis. Despite increased awareness of the health consequences of excessive alcohol, there has been little recent interest among Mormons in using public policy to control alcohol consumption.
In this they are surprisingly out-of-step with the public health community, where there has been much debate regarding the possibility of a Framework Convention on Alcohol. The World Health Organization (WHO) has the power to create legally binding conventions on all members states with only a two-thirds majority. This power has only been used twice in the history of the organization. Once to create International Health Regulations, which require countries to report disease outbreaks and public health events, and then in 2003 with the introduction of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This convention required members of the WHO to implement a series of laws which would aim to reduce tobacco consumption in both the short- and long-term. Recent estimates suggest that it has been incredibly successful. Between 2007 and 2010, 41 countries implemented at least one policy component of the convention at the highest recommended level, reducing the estimated number of smokers by 14.8 million and the total number of smoking-attributable deaths by 7.4 million.
While the absolute impact of a Convention on Alcohol Control would almost certainly be less, it would still, over time, potentially save the lives of millions. This convention might include the following policies :
1. Prevent drink driving
2. Restricting the availability and marketing of alcohol
3. Using price mechanisms to reduce consumption. These need to be large enough to felt by consumers, usually around ~20% of current prices.
4. Banning unlimited drink specials
5. Enforcing a minimum age limit
Some might be surprised that such policies are not already in place. Alcohol, like big tobacco, has powerful lobbyists who try to minimise such regulation.
And this is where the church comes in. They too are effective lobbyists and can mobilise members of the church to achieve political ends. If the church threw its weight behind such a convention it would only add to the groundswell of support in both the academic and public health communities. One area where our current religious practice can inform public debate is the issue of alcohol control.
A WHO Framework Convention on Alcohol Control could save the lives of millions while simultaneously contributing to economic growth in low- and middle-income countries. The church could potentially assist in moving such a convention forward. If they are not already, then I hope they will.