The government is discussing to cut the beer tax for brewers in the small to medium range for a whole year from January 1, 2021 to January 1, 2022. Around 1460 brewers will pay lower taxes if the plan goes through.
In contrast the German government has decided to increase tobacco taxes. They also plan to include e-cigarettes and tobacco heaters in the list of taxable tobacco products. The reason given by the government for the tobacco tax increase is to protect people’s health.
Protecting people’s health is a priority for all governments and has become even more important concerning the ongoing pandemic. But the German keeps ignoring the evidence on the harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.
For instance, alcohol causes cancer, as tobacco does. The death rate from alcohol-related cancers is astonishingly high in Germany. According to WHO’s 2018 Global Alcohol Status Report, alcohol causes 14.696 cancer deaths every year.
Overall, alcohol harm exerts a heavy toll on people and communities in Germany. The country remains “one of the most-addicted societies in the world,” according to a study released in April, 2019 by the German Center for Addiction Issues (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen, DHS).
This study found,
- 74,000 people die every year due to alcohol in Germany,
- Approximately 21,700 children and youth between the age of 10 and 20 years were hospitalized due to alcohol poisoning, in 2017, and
- 13,403 alcohol-related road traffic crashes occurred in 2016 where people got injured.
The DHS Yearbook Addiction 2020, published by the DHS reveals the heavy alcohol burden on German society.
- Per capita alcohol consumption of Germans aged 15 years and older was 10.5 liters of pure alcohol in 2017.
- At the current rate of reduction, it would take Germany 54 years to reach a low-risk consumption level (6 litres).
- A total of 3 million adults between the ages of 18 and 64 had an alcohol use disorder in Germany in 2018.
- The annual economic costs of alcohol harm amount to €57 billion. But government revenue only covers a tiny fraction of this with €3.2 billion from alcohol taxation every year.
COVID-19 is fueling the German alcohol problem
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse in Germany. The Nuremberg Clinic surveyed over 3000 adults on their alcohol consumption and found that 35.5% of survey respondents reported consuming more or much more alcohol than before the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, under-funded addiction counseling centers can not keep up with the rising demand for services.
Big Alcohol’s stranglehold of German alcohol policy
The fact that the government is considering a tax reduction for beer amidst the crisis that is alcohol harm compounded by COVID-19 illustrates the stranglehold the alcohol industry lobby has on German alcohol policy.
The last attempts to comprehensively address Germany’s alcohol problem were derailed by the alcohol industry in 2009, when then Federal Commissioner for Drugs Mrs. Bätzing had proposed evidence-based and WHO-recommended alcohol policy measures. But the lobby interference of the alcohol industry and their allies in the conservative ruling party ultimately derailed the work that had progressed far.
In March this year, the German parliamentary health committee held a hearing to discuss Germany’s alcohol policy. The committee members interviewed experts in various fields regarding alcohol prevention. The conclusion was that there are evidence-based, cost-effective policy solutions available to reduce and prevent alcohol harm in Germany. What is lacking is political will in Germany and the EU to advance action to solve these problems.
Given the fact that German citizens prioritize health and family more than consumerism and that the government needs resources to recover from the consequences of the pandemic, the case for developing alcohol policy solutions is strong, just like for tobacco.