For immediate release: April 16, 2021
Media contact: Maik Dünnbier

A brand new WHO Europe report illustrates the pervasive harm caused by alcohol products. The new WHO Europe report “Making the WHO European Region SAFER. Developments in alcohol control policies, 2010–2019” highlights the persisting lack of progress to protect Europeans from alcohol harm. 

In response, Movendi International proposes an ambitious and promising new solution: a regional initiative for alcohol taxation.

We welcome the new report and congratulate the WHO European Region for their leadership towards building a safer Europe, free from alcohol harm,” says Kristina Sperkova, International President of Movendi International, the largest global social movement for alcohol prevention and control.

Our members who live in countries from all around Europe are really concerned about alcohol industry tactics and the harm they cause to every family and community.

The products and practices of the alcohol industry cause some of the largest health and societal problems in the WHO European Region. They are the reason why Europeans, especially children and youth, cannot live in healthy communities and enjoy full well-being.”

Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International

The coronavirus pandemic reminds us all just how important health and well-being really are. ​A healthy Europe where people and especially children and youth lead healthy and fulfilling lives is an important priority for people and communities across the region.

But persistently high levels of alcohol harm create a heavy health burden. For example, one in every 10 deaths in the entire region is caused by alcohol every year. Especially young people in Europe are heavily affected by alcohol harm. Nearly one in every four deaths among young adults aged 20–24 years is due to alcohol products.

Out of 51 countries in the WHO European Region, only 16 managed to reach the target of a 10% reduction of overall alcohol consumption. But 17 countries saw increases in alcohol consumption. And almost no progress has been achieved since 2016 in the implementation of proven alcohol policy solutions.

WHO Europe’s latest report shows that pricing policies, including alcohol taxation, are the least used alcohol policy solutions, even though they hold the biggest potential to protect health and promote well-being.

The reason why more than 30 million healthy years of life are lost and why 2500 European die every day is the products and practices of the alcohol industry. The alcohol industry, exactly like Big Tobacco, is deploying a range of strategies that put their own profits before the people in Europe. Big Alcohol lobbies against any attempt to develop and implement effective policy solutions that would protect people from alcohol harm. They pressure and threaten any policy-maker and political leader who wants to address alcohol harm. The lobbyists of the alcohol industry interfere in countries all across the region jeopardizing the health and well-being of millions of people. That’s why we do not see more action for the implementation of proven alcohol policy solutions.

Communities around the European region are requesting change. They demand the alcohol industry pays for the harm their products and practices cause, instead of for Big Tobacco-style lobbying campaigns. It is time the health and well-being of Europeans gets better protected from the greed of the alcohol industry.

The best way to achieve this is through a regional initiative for alcohol taxation. Raising the price of alcohol through evidence-based taxation is the single most effective alcohol policy tool. It makes the alcohol industry pay more, increases government revenue and helps promote health and well-being.

The new report is an important milestone for the advancement of high-impact alcohol policy solutions in our region, through the SAFER initiative,” says Ms Sperkova

We see that no progress has been achieved since 2016 in implementing the best alcohol policy solutions. But people want to live in healthy communities. They value health and well-being greatly.

So, we really need new and ambitious initiatives to create a safer and healthier Europe for all. The best solution is a region-wide initiative for alcohol taxation.”

Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International

People consistently value health as the most important condition for a happy and fulfilled life. And evidence-based alcohol taxation is a powerful, yet currently underused tool, to reduce harm, promote health and invest in communities long-term.

Increasing alcohol taxes by 20% will avert 9 million premature deaths and raise €8 trillion in additional government revenue, over a 50 year period, according to analysis detailed in the The Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health report called “Health Taxes to Save Lives”. Increased resources from alcohol taxes can be invested in health promotion and other services to benefit people and communities. 

It’s time for a bold new initiative that puts people’s health before alcohol industry profits by establishing evidence-based alcohol taxation levels; and by re-investing into the health and well-being of people and communities across the region.

Notes to the editor

About Movendi International

With 137 Member Organization from 54 countries, Movendi International is the largest independent global movement for development through alcohol prevention. We unite, strengthen and empower civil society to tackle alcohol as serious obstacle to development on personal, community, societal and global level.

About WHO Regional Office for Europe

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations created in 1948 with the primary responsibility for international health matters and public health. The WHO Regional Office for Europe is one of six regional offices throughout the world, each with its own programme geared to the particular health conditions of the countries it serves.

About the report

Suggested citation: Making the WHO European Region SAFER: developments in alcohol control policies, 2010–2019. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

The report “Making the European Region Safer: developments in alcohol control policies, 2010–2019 (2021)” presents the current status of alcohol consumption, alcohol-attributable harms and the implementation of alcohol control policies in the WHO European Region, using available data from 2010, 2016 and 2019.

Key facts – report overview

Lack of progress towards at least 10% reduction of overall alcohol use
Only a small number of European countries have achieved progress towards an overall decrease in alcohol consumption levels. Western European countries have largely made little or no progress in the reduction of alcohol consumption.
1 million
Major cause of death
The products and practices of Big Alcohol cause nearly 1 million deaths in the WHO European Region per year. That’s as much as 2545 people dying daily.
Countries fail to implement alcohol taxes
Pricing policies – despite being the most cost-effective type of policy – are the least implemented in the Region. Only 17% of European countries implement adequate alcohol pricing policies. Even worse, alcohol has become more affordable.

Fact sheet on a SAFER WHO European Region: developments in alcohol control policies, 2010-2019 (2021)

This fact sheet provides a brief overview of the current status of the burden caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry in the WHO European Region and of the changes in alcohol consumption between 2010 and 2016.

The fact sheet also highlights the state of implementation of the five high-impact strategies of the WHO-led SAFER initiative in 2016 and 2019.

A SAFER European Region: 5 priority interventions to reduce alcohol use

The WHO Europe report also documents where countries currently stand in implementing the recommended measures of the global SAFER initiative.

SAFER is an acronym that stands for the 5 priority areas of intervention with the most effective and cost-effective policy measures that countries can adopt to decrease alcohol consumption and harm and to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. Strengthening restrictions on alcohol availability
  2. Advancing and enforcing drink–driving countermeasures
  3. Facilitating access to screening, brief intervention and treatment
  4. Enforcing bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship and promotion
  5. Raising prices on alcohol through excise taxes and pricing policies.

The high-level launch of this report is an important step in WHO Europe’s work to provide support for Member States in implementing high-impact strategies to build a SAFER European Region, free from harms due to alcohol.