Alcohol related problems are most visible in local communities: accidents, public drunkenness, criminality and delinquency, domestic violence, alcohol intoxications and addictions. This is why these problems are best addressed in the local setting.
Local alcohol policy should be characterized by an active long term cooperation between policy makers with different specializations and local stakeholders from various organizations. Active and open support from the mayor, aldermen and the city council is of great importance. A clear analysis and communication of the local alcohol related problems is a powerful tool to create awareness of the need for action and to get the support of the city administration and stakeholders. In the short-term, visible results of policy can be accomplished by publishing the results. However, really establishing local alcohol policy and getting tangible lasting results demands a long-term approach and therefore everyone needs to support the long-term strategy.
There are three essential pillars of effective preventive local alcohol policy:
(3) education and awareness
WHO rating shows that measures that correspond to the policy pillars ‘regulation’ and ‘enforcement’ belong to the most effective. Educational measures alone are not effective in changing behavior. However, education and awareness are important for creating support.
For elaboration of the pillar 'regulation' most Dutch municipalities use their powers under the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act (Drank- en Horecawet) and the Local Government Act (Gemeentewet).
The mayor issues the licences to liquor stores and pubs/restaurants. The licensing terms are regulated nationally (see theme page Dutch Alcohol Policy). He/she has, as competent authority, also some special powers. For example, he/she can grant a derogation of some licensing rules for short extraordinary events (up to 12 days).
City councils have the competence to tighten up some nationwide rules. Some regulatory powers:
- To ban (temporarily) alcohol sales in liquor stores, pubs/restaurants
- To put special requirements on licences
- To ban temporarily alcohol sales by grocery stores, snack bars and beer couriers
- To regulate alcohol serving hours and serving during private and third-party meetings in sport canteens
- To determine an access age to pubs/restaurants (also after a certain point in time)
- To determine that an ID check is required for access to pubs/restaurants
- To forbid exorbitant price promotions, such as happy hours in pubs/restaurants and price breakers in grocery stores, snack bars, beer couriers and liquor stores.
Many city councils impose their local additional rules in one ‘Alcohol Licensing and Catering Ordinance’ (Drank- en Horecaverordening).
The power to enact local rules on the basis of the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act is limited. Article 40 of that law says that municipalities only have the right to tighten up the national rules as far as the law allows that. For example, the municipality may not induct an age limit of 21 for alcohol purchasing, but can fix a pub access age of 21.
Most municipalities have also alcohol related rules in their General Local Ordinance. For example:
- Opening and closing hours of pubs and restaurants and Late Evening Shopping days and hours
- Regulations of terraces (for example: no outdoor beer taps)
- Local operating licences for pubs and restaurants
- Alcohol advertising in public space
- Fines for annoyingly drinking in public in a specific area within the municipality
Effective policy measures
An international group of leading scientists, sponsored by the WHO, has published a rating list of the effectiveness of policy relevant strategies and interventions (Babor et all, 2010). In the table below we have selected those interventions that are most relevant for the local policy strategy.
|Policy measure||Effectiveness||Breadth of research|
|Raising the price||+++||+++|
|Ban on sales||+++||+++|
|Minimum purchasing age||+++||+++|
|Restrictions days and hours of sale||++||++|
|Lower density of sale points||++||+++|
|Enhances enforcement of sale points||++||++|
|Restrictions on alcohol marketing||+/++||+++|
|Responsible beverage service (staff training)||0/+||***|
Source: Babor et all (2010) Alcohol, no ordinary commodity. Oxford University Press.
The pillar 'enforcement' has become important since 1 January 2013 the enforcement of the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act at the local level came in the hands of specially qualified supervisors (‘boas’) appointed by the mayors. Almost 530 ‘boas’ completed successfully the relevant training.
Supervisors of the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority enforced the law until 2013 on behalf of the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport. They now ensure the compliance with the rules on alcohol serving in trains, planes, boats, etcetera.
Besides these two groups of special supervisors “normal” police officers can act because they have general law enforcement powers.
Penalties for entrepreneurs
Both the minister and the mayor can impose an administrative fine on entrepreneurs violating the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act and the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Ordinance. The amount of the fine is fixed in the so-called Penalty Decree. The revenues of the fines imposed by the minister goes to the National Treasury, those of the mayors goes to their local community.
But there are more sanctions possible. The mayor may, for example, revoke licences (permanently or temporarily) of liquor stores and pubs/restaurants. He/she can also prohibit for one to twelve weeks the sale of alcoholic drinks by grocery stores frequently violating underage drinking regulations. In certain cases (serious offences) the mayor and the minister can decide not to impose an administrative fine, but transfer the case to the Public Prosecutor. The case will then be dealt with according to the Economic Offences Act.
Fines for young people
Young people age 12 to 18 caught drinking or possessing alcohol on the road, in parks, festivals, camping sites, pubs and restaurants can be penalized (by ‘boas’ and the police). The fine is currently € 45 for young people below 16, and € 90 for youngsters age 16 and 17 years. Be fined has no consequences for getting a Certificate of Good Behavior. The attorneys general have decided that offenders may be offered an alternative sanction (transferral to a HALT-programme).
Alcohol Prevention and Enforcement Plan
Since 1 January 2014 the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act states that municipalities must adopt periodically (at least every four year) an Alcohol Prevention and Enforcement Plan.
This plan must include:
- The essentials of the enforcement policy
- The objectives of the enforcement policy
- The manner in which the enforcement policy is implemented
- The enforcement actions that will be taken
- The results the municipality wishes to attain in the coming years
A survey commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, indicated recently that 80.4% of the municipalities adopted early 2015 an Alcohol Prevention and Enforcement Plan.
Purpose of this policy pillar is to create a broad support for the municipal alcohol policy. It is important that the municipality also clearly communicates that the regulations are not intended to make life complicated for entrepreneurs, parents or young people, but to protect public health and safety. Ideally, both entrepreneurs and citizens are aware of the risks of alcohol use, understand the measures that have been or will be taken at the local level, and are willing to comply with the rules.
Examples education and awareness
The measures in this pillar include:
- Communication directed at entrepreneurs, (sports)associations, parents and young people
- Startup and financing local alcohol prevention projects
- Media advocacy
- Organizations of debates and study days
- Supporting civil initiatives in this field
- Promote an alcohol-free living environment for young people (especially in the education and youth work)
- Financing of training of sport canteen personnel
The pillar 'education and awareness' can also include prevention activities aimed at risk groups, thus:
- Providing information materials in places where risk groups come
- Promoting early interventions and treatment, for example in schools and primary health care
Alcohol Prevention and Enforcement Plan
In the legally-required municipal Alcohol Prevention and Enforcement Plan, the following must be included on alcohol prevention:
- The essentials of the alcohol prevention policy, particularly towards young people (here, for example, a municipality can mention sub-target groups)
- The objectives of the alcohol prevention policy
- The prevention actions that will be taken (a municipality can decide to focus just on alcohol prevention or to have actions in conjunction with other prevention programs, including programs for health promotion)
Even if one wishes to implement all evidence-based policy measures mentioned in the previous paragraphs, municipalities often have to choose a certain mix of interventions. Financial limitations and capacity problems force policy makers to make a realistic policy plan. The Building Capacity expert group formulated a minimal package for local alcohol policy based on the WHO rating and practical experiences in the different EU countries. The minimal package is listed below:
- Enforcement of the legal age limits for purchasing alcohol
- Enforcement of regulations concerning public drunkenness and over-serving
- Restricting the number of points of sale (especially in and around schools and events)
- Hours and days of sale restrictions
Education and awareness
- Expanding the provision of basic information about the risks of alcohol use on health (special target groups are parents and adolescents)
- Media advocacy, creating and establishing an agenda on alcohol problems in all relevant local organisations and within the media
Research has shown that for specific high-risk groups early interventions and treatment can be very successful in changing drinking behavior. For example we mention brief interventions
in the primary health care sector.
Employees of STAP have knowledge of effective local alcohol policy measures and experience with the implementation of these measures. Therefore STAP can help municipalities with advice about the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Act, the Alcohol Licensing and Catering Ordinance and the Alcohol Prevention and Enforcement Plan.
STAP also carries out research for municipalities, especially mystery-shop research and research on over-serving.