European Union: Local and Regional Leaders Demand Alcohol Strategy. Call to increase labelling and alcolocks reflects focus on prevention
The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has called for the European Union to establish a new alcohol strategy and to improve labelling, increase efforts to protect children, target binge alcohol use, and encourage the use of car locks to prevent driving under the influence of alcohol.
The recommendations are part of a broader demand by the CoR for the EU’s member states and on the EU’s decision-making authorities to make a concerted effort to reduce the impact of alcohol, particularly on pregnant women, children, young people, and road traffic participants. The CoR opinion cites figures showing that driving under the influence of alcohol is responsible for 25% of all fatal car accidents in the EU.
The CoR opinion, which was drafted by Ewa-May Karlsson (SE/ALDE), a member of Vindeln municipal council in Sweden, follows the expiry of two alcohol-related EU initiatives in December 2016: the Joint Action on Reducing Alcohol Related Harm and the Action Plan on Youth Drinking and on Heavy Episodic Drinking. The EU has had no alcohol strategy since 2012.
Ms Karlsson said:
In effect, alcohol policy has been left entirely to member states, and often they allow the [alcohol] industries to monitor and regulate themselves.
Things cannot go on as they are, because the damage is huge and – in some respects – growing.
Between 5 and 9 million children in the EU live in families where alcohol is abused. The financial costs of alcohol-related harm are colossal – up to €155.8 billion a year, according to figures used by the European Commission.
Moreover, health inequalities are growing, which aggravates the dangers posed by alcohol to vulnerable groups and young people. It is still too easy to advertise to school-children, and, in addition, [alcohol] producers are effectively moving more of their marketing efforts to the sponsorship of sporting and cultural events.
Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have an obligation to protect children and young people from the harmful effects of alcohol. The EU’s member states – and the EU as a system – have to take those responsibilities more seriously. And we politicians have to be prepared to enter a political minefield.”
The recommendations provoked some strong views in early discussions, but the CoR aligned with the rapporteur’s positions on the final amendments submitted to the CoR’s plenary session on February 9, 2017.
In endorsing the idea of a new EU alcohol strategy, the CoR is joining a call from both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament.
The opinion highlights that alcohol is a subject of a range of global activities to which EU member states are party – particularly the World Health Organization Global Alcohol Strategy and the global NCDs action plan as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – and argues that the EU could force changes to labelling and should continue to facilitate the exchange of best practice. General agreement on problems and solutions would encourage member states to take steps to limit dangers.
Alcohol can damage our communities and causes problems that affect the schools, hospitals and streets run by local and regional authorities.
Local leaders should have a say in the direction of alcohol policy, and we can contribute significantly because they often know best what measures will limit the negative effects of alcohol in our communities.”
The CoR’s recommendations include proposals:
- to ban marketing and advertising of alcohol to children, including via social media;
- to move away from self-monitoring and self-regulation;
- to boost information campaigns, including through classes at school and labelling targeted at women and children;
- to encourage joint efforts, including research, to prevent the sale of extremely cheap alcohol, including online sales;
- to increase efforts to monitor alcohol sales and to collect data on alcohol-related issues.