The new drug policy commissioner of the German government has proposed to raise the legal age limit for purchasing alcohol (beer and wine) from 16 to 18 years.
Currently, in Germany the legal age for buying alcohol with less than 15% alcohol content is 16 years and for alcohol above 15% it is 18 years. The new drug policy commissioner wants to raise the minimum age for alcohol use to 18 years for the lower strength products as well. Commissioner Burkhard Blienert has said that there are many medical reasons backing his proposal.
The commissioner further stated that the rule which allows teens as young as 14 to consume beer, wine or champagne in the presence of their parents or guardians should be abolished.
He also expressed intentions to improve rules around the advertising of alcohol and tobacco products and gambling.
German government commits to address alcohol harm more effectively
The new German coalition government in their governing contract, committed to address alcohol harm. The 2021-2025 coalition contract stated:
- The government commits itself to improving alcohol and tobacco prevention efforts, especially towards children, youth, and pregnant women.
- The government commits itself to strengthen the regulations for alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis marketing.
- And the government commits itself to measure the regulations by the standards of newest scientific insights and to apply those insights to public health protections.
The government further committted to better support children of households with alcohol use problems and to implement a child rights based approach.
Alcohol problems are a child rights issue that is often overlooked. Alcohol marketing is a threat to children’s future because evidence shows that alcohol advertising exposure makes kids take up alcohol use earlier and to consume more alcohol if they’ve started.
The WHO-UNICEF-Lancet commission on the future for the world’s children identified predatory commercial exploitation that is encouraging harmful and addictive behavior as an existential threat to the world’s children.
The need for alcohol policy improvements
Alcohol policy improvements are an urgent necessity for Germany, a country with an epidemic level of alcohol deaths. According to a study by the German Central Office for Addiction Issues (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen, DHS) 74,000 people die every year due to the products and practices of the alcohol industry in Germany. 21,700 children and youth between the age of 10 and 20 years were hospitalized due to alcohol poisoning, in 2017.
Adding to the problem is the stranglehold that the alcohol lobby has had on the German alcohol policy making. The last attempts to comprehensively address Germany’s alcohol problem were made by then Federal Drug Policy Commissioner Ms. Sabine Bätzing (SPD) in 2009. At the time the commissioner proposed evidence-based and WHO-recommended alcohol policy solutions. However, interference of the alcohol industry and their allies in the conservative ruling party CDU/CSU ultimately derailed the work that had progressed far.
More recently Germany has started to take some steps to address the problem, starting with the hearing held by the German parliamentary health committee last year. The hearing concluded 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.
The new federal drug policy commissioner’s proposal to raise the legal age for alcohol of lower strengths is a good starting point to improve alcohol policy solutions in the country.
People in Germany prioritize health and family more than consumerism indicating their preference for public health policy protecting more people from the harms caused by the alcohol industry. In addition, the government needs resources to invest in health system strengthening and sustainability – as the coronavirus pandemic has shown.
The Associated Press: “Germany’s drugs czar wants higher age limits for alcohol“