New York City, USA
28 June-1 July 1998
Agenda: Beyond the academic
While the title of this conference, "Permission for Pleasure," was intended to attract interest and evoke discussion, it also conveyed the quandary that individual attitudes and social norms are inextricably intertwined with public health issues.
"When somebody chooses to drink, they expect it to be a pleasurable experience," observed Marcus Grant, ICAP’s President. "This conference is about what that means for society, as well as for individuals."
Thus, although the conference agenda emerged from a health sciences mindset, it was equally rooted in the following social sciences premise: Any discussion about pleasure and its role in daily life must acknowledge the varying frameworks for pleasure provided by each of the world's cultures. The conference addressed the following themes: "The Meaning and Significance of Pleasure," "Drinking and Health Across Cultures," "Drinking Behaviors and Pleasure," "Gender Differences in the Pleasure and Health," and "Pleasure and Alcohol Policy." It also included an international media panel.
Conference participants agreed on several critical issues:
- The function of pleasure in relation to drinking needs to be considered in the context of many other individual, socioeconomic, and cultural variables, including gender and age.
- The individual choice whether or not to drink should be based on accurate and balanced information.
- Health, quality of life, and responsible drinking can be interconnected, but their relationship to each other needs to be better understood.
- Public health advocates, scientists, governments, the media, and the beverage alcohol industry all have distinct and sometimes overlapping roles and responsibilities when it comes to addressing the place of alcohol in society. The dialogue at this conference is part of a partnership through which to guide the future.
The four conference conclusions are simply cornerstones for a structure whose dimensions are unknown. What is important is that the ideas brought up during the conference contribute to a public policy that values education and information, recognizes the autonomy of individuals and communities, and rises above worn-out ideologies. The challenge is to build a scientifically sound approach that will also be of practical utility in making people's lives healthier, of higher quality, and more pleasurable.
Permission for Pleasure generated substantive coverage in the media. The conference received generally positive reviews in newspapers such as The Chicago Tribune and The Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as in the trade press. In addition to the print coverage, Marcus Grant, ICAP President, was interviewed on the Talk America Radio Network and the Voice of America. Furthermore, several media panelists (Andrew Barr, The Sunday Times, and John Illman, The Observer, both from London; Laurie Abraham, Mirabella magazine; and Leslie Laurence, Glamour magazine) all prepared articles for their respective publications following the conference.
Much of the media coverage focused on the conference's primary theme of balancing pleasure with the responsibility to achieve a better quality of life. In that sense, the media will help increase understanding of, and respect for, pleasure as an important component of the health dialogue on alcohol.
William Macklin, a syndicated columnist for the Knight-Ridder News Service, described Permission for Pleasure: "The international consortium of public health experts, physicians and scholars who met to talk about pleasure were intent on raising questions about the nation's tendency to wallow in obsessive, counter-productive fears about health and mortality, fears some experts believe restrain a natural, healthy impulse to have a good time."
Of course, not all coverage was positive, and some of it raised questions about the role of the media (especially film and television) and industry advertising in disseminating information and fostering behavioral images and patterns. Future work on alcohol, pleasure, and the media will no doubt need to examine such questions in greater detail. This will constitute a critical part of the ongoing dialogue that ICAP fosters among industry, public health, and the media.
Click here to read the official conference review.