Alko at the Anti-substance Abuse Days – threat or opportunity?

This year, Alko decided to run its own stand at the Anti-substance Abuse Days to raise awareness of an important theme – FASD – in collaboration with the Finnish Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. However, here at Alko, the idea of participating did make us think. Can Alko promote FASD awareness in the way we’d like? Will taking part be a threat or an opportunity?

The Anti-substance Abuse Days were held at the Helsinki Hall of Culture on 8–9 May. It’s one of Finland’s largest educational events on the topic of substance abuse and is primarily targeted at professionals, volunteers and experts in the field of social affairs and healthcare.

Alko representatives have already been attending the event as participants for a number of years. Last year, Maritta Iso-Aho (Alko’s Executive Vice President, Communications) attended the Anti-substance Abuse Days to talk about our campaign A Child’s Burden. But this year was the first year that we had our own stand.

In the run up to the event, we were slightly concerned about taking part. What kinds of questions would Alko’s presence and visibility spark off among attendees? Or would we be inundated with negative feedback? However, these worries turned out to be unfounded and we were given an excellent reception!

We ran our stand in collaboration with the Finnish Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Our theme was FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders), that is, the broad spectrum of disorders that alcohol causes in fetuses. This important topic was an easy choice of theme, as Alko has already been cooperating with the Finnish Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for several years to raise awareness of FASD. We have also highlighted this theme annually on FASD Day (9 September) by opening our stores at 9.09.

In addition to our stand’s ‘loss leader’, Mr Clutterbuck chewing gum, we also attracted people’s attention with a multi-choice quiz that tested their knowledge of FASD. 261 people took the test over the two days. This exceeded all our expectations, so a big thank you to everyone who participated!

The clear majority knew what the acronym FASD stood for. Most respondents also knew that, of all substances, it is alcohol that does the most damage to fetuses and the safest option is not to drink any alcohol at all during pregnancy. The greatest variance was seen when we asked about the number of children born each year with alcohol-related disorders. In Finland, as many as 600–3,000 children a year are born with a variety of disorders caused by their mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This figure caused some horror, as many people had thought it to be much smaller.

We were especially touched by a comment from an attendee from Tampere who works in the field of anti-substance abuse. This attendee was surprised that Alko was involved in supporting FASD awareness at the Anti-substance Abuse Days, and said that our efforts were both responsible and important: “It’s great – it makes me feel all tingly inside.”

At the Alko stand, we experienced another particularly warm-hearted moment when a group of FASD young people dropped by to say hi and share their experiences with us.

We left the Anti-substance Abuse Days on a really positive note thanks to all the pleasant interactions and interesting conversations, and happy that our initial concerns had been unnecessary. So now the question is, what can we do next year to further spread awareness of FASD?

Maiju Sirviö

The author is an Alko's Sustainability Specialist and one of the people who manned the Alko stand at the Anti-substance Abuse Days.