Although the WHO European Region has experienced an overall decrease in alcohol consumption levels, this trend is only associated with the progress achieved by a small number of countries mainly from the eastern part of the Region. With a few notable exceptions, western European countries, including countries within the European Union (EU), have made little or no progress in the reduction of alcohol consumption.
This dynamic is highlighted in the new WHO Europe report “Making the WHO European Region SAFER. Developments in alcohol control policies, 2010–2019”.
The report assesses the latest steps Member States have made towards implementing evidence-based and effective alcohol policy solutions.
In reaction, Movendi International has called for more ambitious action and bolder goals, proposing a region-wide initiative for alcohol taxation.

Alcohol leads to 2500 deaths a day

Alcohol is a psychoactive and dependence-producing substance classified as a Group 1 human carcinogen, along with other cancer-causing substances such as asbestos, radium and tobacco. It is recognized as a cause for more than 200 diseases and injuries.

In the European Region alone, alcohol use leads to almost 1 million deaths each year – about 2500 deaths every day.

1 Million
Alcohol deaths per year in Europe
The products and practices of the alcohol industry in the WHO European region cause ca. 1 million deaths every year.

Alcohol is no ordinary commodity and should not be treated as one. It hits the most vulnerable,” explained Dr Nino Berdzuli, Director of the Division of Country Health Programmes at WHO/Europe.

Harm due to alcohol is greater for [users] and their families with low incomes than for those with higher incomes, and this only exacerbates existing health inequalities. Alcohol consumption and its burden present some of the largest health and societal challenges in the WHO European Region.”

Dr Nino Berdzuli, Director, Division of Country Health Programmes, WHO Europe

Alcohol policy solutions: positive experience of eastern European and central Asian countries

To present an overview of the current burden due to alcohol in the European Region and the implementation of corresponding alcohol policies, WHO Europe’s new report “Making the WHO European Region SAFER. Developments in alcohol control policies, 2010–2019” analyses data gathered from 51 Member States.

Of these countries, 34 reported decreases in alcohol consumption levels, but only 16 countries are on track to reach the 10% reduction target for overall alcohol use. And 17 countries, actually reported increases in overall alcohol use.

According to the publication, the Region has demonstrated a significant decrease in per capita alcohol consumption – by 12.5%, from 11.2 litres in 2010 to 9.8 litres in 2016. However, these improvements were mainly determined by decreasing levels of alcohol use in the eastern countries of the Region, many of which have introduced proven and WHO-recommended alcohol policy solutions over the past years.

For instance, half the countries that have reduced their alcohol consumption by at least 10% are members or associate members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a free association of sovereign states formed in 1991 by countries of the former Soviet Union.

The statistics for the EU are more troubling, as an earlier WHO report also revealed. In the same period, the 28 EU countries as well as Norway and Switzerland observed a reduction in alcohol consumption of only 1.5% – a change that is not statistically significant when accounting for measurement errors.

Movendi International reaction and proposal

As the new WHO Europe report illustrates the pervasive harm caused by alcohol products and the persisting lack of progress to protect Europeans from alcohol harm, Kristina Sperkova, Movendi International President, has proposed 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.

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

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.

WHO Europe’s research suggests that overall alcohol consumption in the Region will remain close to current levels in the next 10 years, although the global COVID-19 pandemic has likely led to an overall decrease in alcohol use, mainly due to the closing of restaurants, bars and other serving locations. However, more monitoring and surveillance efforts are needed as preliminary data indicate that this decline is not uniform across consumer groups.

We recognize and praise the actions of the Member States that have followed WHO’s advice to implement evidence-based alcohol policies which are showing positive outcomes, but there is no room for complacency,” emphasized Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, Acting Head of the European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office), who has been leading the research.

In the eastern European and central Asian countries where the greatest decreases have been achieved, alcohol has long been a key risk factor for the burden of disease, and levels of harm still remain unacceptably high, affecting individuals, families and communities. These countries currently lead by example in implementing alcohol policies, but they need to maintain and increase their efforts, and other countries of the Region need to follow their lead.”

Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, Acting Head of the European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, WHO Europe

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 prevent 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.

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.
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.

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.

Source Website: WHO Europe