Challenging Big Industry Narratives and Advancing Unified Advocacy: Reflections from the Filtered 2024 Conference

27–28 June 2024

Ljubljana, Slovenia


The “Challenging Big Industry Narratives. Alcohol, Tobacco, Unhealthy Food and Drinks: Population Measures and Policies” conference, held in Ljubljana, Slovenia on 27–28 June 2024, marked a significant milestone in public health advocacy as it brought together for the first time the communities addressing three risk factors of non-communicable diseases: alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drinks, with the aim of developing integrated strategies against the Commercial Determinants of Health (CDoH).

Conference Highlights

The conference facilitated cross-sector collaboration, breaking away from the tradition of single-topic events and research-oriented discussions. An overarching acknowledgement was: We know what to do; we need to find out how to do it and convince policy-makers. The integration and collaboration among professionals working on different risks factors is crucial given the current political landscape, and building a united front is the safest way to influence policy effectively. The two-day event featured plenary sessions, panel discussions, and interactive workshops. Participants shared insights and strategies on making the case for prevention, implementing taxes and marketing restrictions on   health-harming products, and mobilising community action.

Additionally, in memory of Tiziana Codenotti, former President of Eurocare and Eurocare Italy, who passed away in 2023 and was a pivotal figure in alcohol advocacy, Eurocare awarded the Tiziana Codenotti Award for the Fight Against the Commercial Determinants of Health to policy makers who have been exemplary in advocating for health policies. This year, the prize went to Sara Cerdas, Portuguese MEP for S&D during the 2019-2024 period, to Frank Vandenbroucke, Belgium’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs in 2020-2024, and to Gauden Galea, WHO’s Strategic Adviser to the Regional Director on the Special Initiative on NCDs and Innovation.

Results and Impact

  1. Breaking Silos: The conference was a successful step towards an integrated approach between the NCD risk factors, notably alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drinks, helping to map the areas of common action and dissolve the silos that often hinder collective progress in public health. Recognising the importance of working together, the event emphasised the need for learning from one sector to the other and building further collectively, without letting the focus on one area delay action on another.
  2. Advocacy against the Commercial Determinants of Health: Attendees developed robust strategies to advocate against the commercial determinants of health. The focus was on reducing alcohol-related harm, tobacco control, and decreasing the consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks. This aligns with the EU’s “Healthier Together” NCD initiative and the WHO Best Buys policies. However, for this to be possible, independent, predictable public funding is vital. Health advocacy needs this in order to remain free from external influence. Another key insight was that health advocates often speak primarily to health ministers, who are typically already supportive. Instead, there is a need to engage ministers of finance, agriculture, tax services, justice, energy, and transport – to name a few. Clarity, predictability, and a comprehensive understanding of regional, national, and EU competencies are essential.
    Public officials require evidence that actions against the Commercial Determinants of Health will not negatively impact the economy, labour market, or key interest groups. On the contrary, this will bring benefits, such as increased revenues, lower traffic accidents, and reduced hospital waiting list.
  3. Political Action: In light of rising extremist movements, political polarization and shifting political trends in the EU but also broadly in Europe and internationally, the conference showcased the importance of proactive, unified advocacy to safeguard public health. . Examples from Nordic countries, where new tobacco products were authorised and alcohol monopolies challenged, illustrate this point. Public awareness campaigns should focus on industry actions and not only individual lifestyle choices.  Additionally, lobbying WHO is crucial to ensure they uphold their commitments, especially in international forums where NGOs often face financial, visa, and access barriers and industry is disproportionally present.
  4. Youth Action: The Filtered project awarded scholarships to 20 young delegates from all around Europe, working on food, alcohol, tobacco, or general healthcare advocacy. These delegates actively participated in the conference, providing insightful comments and questions, as well as joining plenaries to challenge the panellists. They highlighted the importance of a trans-generational outlook, emphasising that youth are both the present and future of health advocacy. Young delegates stressed that policies affecting the environment and availability of unhealthy products, along with taxation, are the most effective measures.

Moving forward

The “Challenging Big Industry Narratives” conference has set a new standard for collaboration in public health, highlighting the power of unity in the fight against non-communicable diseases. By leveraging the synergies created through initiatives like the FILTERED Project, the conference exemplified how much we have in common and how effective this community can be in combatting the CDoH. It is time to apply what we have learned!

About the FILTERED Project

The FILTERED Project aims to strengthen cooperation among civil society organisations to foster a co-creative approach in addressing the main risk factors of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Led by Eurocare, in partnership with Smoke Free Partnership, European Heart Network, Youth Health Organisation, Advocacy Center LIFE, and Woman Health & Family Planning; the project emphasises mutual learning and strategic alliances to tackle public health policy gaps. Its activities align and contribute to Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the EU “Healthier Together” NCD initiative, JAPreventNCD and WHO’s recommended policy interventions, focusing on integrated actions to reduce NCDs.