The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) released the Alcohol Atlas 2022 ahead of the National Cancer Prevention Week in Germany from September 12 to 16, 2022.
The Atlas provides a summary of data on alcohol use and its health and social consequences.
In addition to the situation in Germany, there are two chapters dedicated to alcohol use and policies in the European Union.
The aim of the new Atlas is to improve public and political awareness on the impact of alcohol use and its health, social and economic harms and encourage a social debate around the topic.
The report shows which alcohol policy solutions can reduce alcohol use and harm:
- Raising the age limit for alcohol use to 18 years.
- Increasing alcohol taxes.
Heavy cancer burden due to alcohol in Germany
The report highlights alcohol’s cancer burden.
In Germany alone, alcohol causes 20,000 new cancer cases and 8000 cancer deaths annually.
The most common cancers caused by alcohol are colorectal cancer, cancers of the mouth and throat, liver, esophagus, and breast.
Many people are not aware that alcohol is a significant cancer risk factor,” said Katrin Schaller from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), as per Spiegal Health.Katrin Schaller, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)
No safe amount of alcohol use
The Atlas highlights that there is no safe level of alcohol use. Even low-dose alcohol use of about 12.5g per day has been found to lead to mouth, throat, esophagus, and female breast cancer. The higher the level of alcohol consumed the more the cancer risk increases.
Apart from cancer alcohol is linked to over 200 diseases including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and damage to the brain and nervous system.
Other than the health harms caused by alcohol there is its grave social and economic costs. About one in 10 crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol plays a role in around 5% of all traffic accidents involving personal injury.
Alcohol harm leads to €57 billion in direct and indirect costs to German society.
Meanwhile, alcohol tax revenue amounts to only €3.2 billion – nowhere near enough to cover the cost that the products and practices of the alcohol industry are causing.
Germans spend 8.5% of their total income on alcohol products.
According to Atlas, there are regional and social differences in alcohol use and harm. For example, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has the highest number of hospital admissions due to alcohol-related causes, while Baden-Württemberg has the lowest.
The Atlas also reports that high-risk alcohol use is highest among people with high educational qualifications. About 16% of women with higher educational qualifications use alcohol in high-risk amounts, double that of women with lower education. Among men, 18% who are more educated consume alcohol at high-risk levels vs. about 16% of those who are less educated.
Impact of pandemic on alcohol use and harm in Germany
The COVID-19 pandemic affected alcohol use among Germans. A study by the Central Institute and the University Hospital Nuremberg found that during the first lockdown among 2000 surveyed adults, 37% reported increasing alcohol use and 21% reduced use compared to the same period prior to the pandemic.
Addiction physician and medical director Falk Kiefer from the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim says alcohol use just shifted from public spaces to private spaces. He points out that despite decreased opportunities to consume alcohol together due to the pandemic average alcohol use did not really decrease much in 2020 compared to previous years.
People who have already used alcohol regularly at home, for example, to drive away loneliness, boredom or worries, now use more,” said Dr. Falk Kiefer, Addiction physician and medical director of the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim, as per MDR.Dr. Falk Kiefer, Addiction physician and medical director, Central Institute for Mental Health, Mannheim
The report highlights WHO and OECD recommendations to Germany to improve the country’s alcohol policy.
During this National Cancer Prevention Week, the German Cancer Research Center, the German Cancer Aid, and the German Cancer Society are campaigning to improve alcohol policies in the country.
They call on the German government to:
- Increase the minimum age to 18 years for the purchase and consumption of all alcoholic beverages.
- Restrict alcohol marketing.
- Significantly increase taxes on alcohol products.
Currently, in Germany, young people are allowed to use beer and wine from the age of 14 years, if they are accompanied by their parents and unaccompanied after 16 years. Only hard liquor is not permitted till 18 years. The three main cancer organizations are calling to increase the legal age to 18 years for all alcohol products.
In terms of alcohol advertising, Germany only has a ban on alcohol advertising before 6 p.m. in the cinema. The organizations call for an urgent ban on alcohol advertising in sporting events. They warn policymakers against efforts by alcohol industry lobbyists to influence and sponsor public institutions, political party congresses, or sporting events to appear as a socially responsible business.
The Federal Drug Commissioner, Mr. Burkhard Blienert, said in the foreword to the Alcohol Atlas:
We do have positive developments, such as the fact that young people are starting to consume alcohol later and later, but Germany is still a high-consumption country. We need a critical discussion on the subject of alcohol, on our usual patterns of consumption and on an alcohol policy that shows new ways.”Burkhard Blienert, Federal Drug Commissioner, Germany
Apart from advocating for improved alcohol policy solutions, the three organizations have organized a series of sober parties for the National Cancer Prevention Week in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Cologne.
Additionally, in the podcast, “Sober Talk” Gideon Bellin from Sober Sensation – a Member Organization of Movendi International – talks to Christian Trautwein, Director of the Department of Gastroenterology, Metabolic Diseases and Internal Intensive Care Medicine at RWTH Aachen University Hospital about alcohol as a cancer risk factor.
DKFZ: “Alcohol Atlas Germany 2022“
DKFZ: “Alcohol Atlas Germany published in 2022: Every year 20,000 alcohol-related cancers in Germany“
DKFZ: “Underestimated cancer risk factor alcohol: National Cancer Prevention Week 2022: Politics must act – now!“
Der Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Sucht- und Drogenfragen: “New alcohol atlas of the German Cancer Research Center published“