The World Health Organization recommends three alcohol policy Best Buy solutions to prevent and reduce alcohol harm. These are proven measures that are the most affordable, feasible and cost-effective intervention strategies for tackling the harm caused by alcohol products. The three Best Buys are:
- Increase excise taxes on alcoholic beverages;
- Enact and enforce bans or comprehensive restrictions on exposure to alcohol advertising; and
- Enact and enforce restrictions on the physical availability of retailed alcohol.
The WHO European region stands to gain a lot from these policy solutions considering the high level of harm alcohol causes to Europeans. In this region alcohol use leads to almost 1 million deaths each year, or about 2500 deaths every day, and is associated with more than 200 diseases and injuries, including the leading causes of death such as cardiovascular diseases, injuries and cancers.
Nevertheless, the new WHO Europe report “Making the WHO European Region SAFER. Developments in alcohol control policies, 2010–2019”, found that only few Member States make use of these high-impact alcohol policy solutions to protect people and communities.
Out of the 51 countries analyzed in the report, 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.
But there are some countries in the European region which have implemented WHO recommended policy solutions. Their commitment to evidence-based alcohol policy development shows impressive success. They were able to substantially reduce alcohol harm. These countries are an example for the entire region.
Lithuania was a country with one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in early 2000s. In response the government created and adopted an alcohol law building on the Best Buy solutions. Civil society engagement was crucial on the road to Lithuania’s current comprehensive alcohol policy. This package reduced the alcohol consumption rate in Lithuania in a short period of time.
- First action package implemented in 2008–2009 and 2014: Restrictions on alcohol advertisement and a ban on alcohol sales in petrol stations and kiosks.
- Second package in 2016: Increased the minimum legal age for alcohol use from 18 years to 20 years, increased the price of alcoholic beverages through excise taxes and limited their retail sale time, and banned the advertisement of alcohol.
The implementation of high-impact alcohol policy solutions led to a 20% reduction of the alcohol-attributable years of life lost by 2016.
Unfortunately, this comprehensive alcohol policy is under threat now. Recently the speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) Viktorija Čmilyte-Nielsen has said the country’s alcohol laws need reviewing and “replacing.”
Scotland focused on changing behaviors connected to alcohol and denormalizing alcohol in Scottish society. In 2009, the authorities adopted a framework for action with 41 alcohol policy solutions. This comprehensive approach included a ban on multi-buy discounts on alcoholic beverages in off-trade establishments as well as alcohol brief interventions.
The historic implementation of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland led to the highest benefits for the country. In the first year of implementation sales of alcohol products dropped to a 25 year low leading to a 10% reduction in alcohol related deaths in Scotland.
The Russian Federation was one of the first countries to adopt comprehensive alcohol policy solutions in the region. In the late 2000’s they started using alcohol policy to change the pervasive alcohol norm in the country. Resulting in a massive decrease of 43% in alcohol consumption between 2003 to 2016. Their policy solutions included:
- Increasing alcohol excise tax,
- Establishing and increasing minimum prices on certain alcoholic beverages, and
- Introducing the EGAIS system.
WHO data shows that the alcohol consumption rate (per capita) decreased by 12.5%, from 11.2 litres in 2010 to 9.8 litres in 2016 in the European region. These improvements were mainly determined by some countries in Eastern Europe.
However, these improvements were mainly determined by countries of the eastern part of the Region, many of which have introduced best-buy policies,” said Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges, Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office) and Programme Manager of Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health at WHO/Europe, as per WHO Europe News.
It is time for the whole Region to learn this lesson that will greatly benefit people’s health, the economy and well-being.”Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges, Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office) and Programme Manager of Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health at WHO Europe