The data from 2019 show that Italians were already suffering from harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry. The number of people using alcohol including minors has been going up since 2014, while the number of Italians living free from alcohol has been declining over the years. The percentage of people with high-risk alcohol use has also been rising over the past eight year. The report further notes the most at risk groups are minors, mainly 16 to 17 year olds and older people over the age of 65 years.
The preliminary data for 2020 show the pandemic made the Italian alcohol problem even worse.
- There was an increase of high-risk alcohol use to 23.6 % for males and 9.7% for females during 2020.
- Teenage girls between 14 to 17 years for the first time have surpassed boys in high-risk alcohol use, rising to 30.5% while for same age boys it was 28.4%.
- Significant increases in women suffering from high-risk alcohol use were noted for all age groups up to 60 years.
The alcohol industry has been cashing in on the ongoing health crisis in Italy and around the world with pandemic centric marketing. This marketing strategy exploits people’s vulnerabilities at this challenging time to promote alcohol as a way to cope with pandemic stressors.
In addition to unethical alcohol marketing, the alcohol industry has also launched a deregulation campaign in Italy and across the world to weaken alcohol policy rules, specifically in terms of online alcohol retail and home delivery.
Adding to community concerns is the fact that alcohol policy protections of minors have also been weakened in Italy. This is increasing the risk that children and adolescents are increasingly exposed to alcohol promotions.
In Italy, Big Alcohol’s strategies have led to increased sales at the cost of citizens’ health. During the lockdowns alcohol sales increased in online retail and home delivery which increased between 181% to 250% in the country.
A groundbreaking report illustrates the problems and perils of weakening alcohol policy protections. The report details the lethal interaction of alcohol industry products and practices with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Alcohol increases the health and societal problems arising from the pandemic. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to infections. And alcohol-centric social contexts have been COVID-19 super spreader events.
- Alcohol increases the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already stretched due to the COVID-19.
- The alcohol industry exploits the pandemic to change alcohol laws to their private benefit.
Meanwhile alcohol addiction and treatment services have been unable to cope due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. There has been a growth in demand but a lack of resources and difficulty adjusting to online platforms leading to less people getting the help and support they need.
This aggravates the already existing problem from heavy alcohol use in Italy. For example in 2019 a total of 54,001 hospital admissions were recorded due entirely to alcohol attributable causes. These included chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, mental disorders, addiction or alcohol problems and avoidable road accidents. Further, alcohol caused 17,000 avoidable deaths in Italy.
Priority action on alcohol policy solutions and prevention is needed to build back better from the pandemic.
Post-pandemic action should be characterized by the activation of resources and strategies, to which the WHO and the European Commission have already referred, for example, the “EU Beating Cancer Plan”, which aims at the post-COVID-19 era with new models of the prevention of risks from alcohol, and the activation of new prevention strategies through a renewed National Alcohol and Health Plan to ensure the suitability of interventions,” said Emanuele Scafato, director of the WHO Center for Alcohol Research and the National Alcohol Observatory at the ISS, as per ISS News [Translated from Italian].Emanuele Scafato, director, WHO Center for Alcohol Research and the National Alcohol Observatory, ISS
ISS: “Alcohol: the very young, women and the elderly are at greater risk. In the COVID-19 era, alcohol-related problems increase, especially in the most vulnerable population” [Translated from Italian]
Alkoholpolitik: “Alcohol consumption in Italy increases by 250% during the pandemic” [Translated from German]