Burkhard Blienert, Commissioner for Addiction Issues of the German Federal Government has renewed his call for comprehensive and common sense limits for alcohol advertising in Germany.
Mr Blienert said that every year nearly 150,000 people die due to alcohol and tobacco use, according to ABC News reporting.
We need a real paradigm shift, a change of thinking, when it comes to drugs and addiction policy,” said Mr Blienert, as per Washington Post.
No other European country is as laissez-faire when it comes to alcohol and tobacco as Germany.”Burkhard Blienert, Commissioner for Addiction Issues, Federal Government Germany
Mr Blienert the alcohol policy changes needed were a matter of public health, as per DW reporting.
Every adult drinks on average a whole bucket of pure alcohol a year,” Blienert said, according to DW reporting.Burkhard Blienert, Commissioner for Addiction Issues, Federal Government Germany
Two concrete alcohol policy solutions
The first step to better protecting people in Germany from alcohol harm was to ban alcohol advertising online, in social media, and on television and radio – preferably around the clock, but at least during prime time.
Alcohol and tobacco advertising must disappear from the view of children and young people in Germany, said Mr Blienert.
A second step was to increase the legal age limit for alcohol consumption of minors. Current rules have children at the age of 14 years consume alcohol if their parents are present. Children from the age of 16 are legally allowed to consume beer and wine, and at 18 years of age to consume high alcohol content beverages.
These outdated alcohol laws – that do not follow WHO best practice – put German children at high risk of early alcohol use initiation, of engaging in high-risk and heavy alcohol use, and of developing alcohol use disorder and addiction later in life.
The Commissioner said he wanted to bring the age of legal consumption to 18 years of age across the board, according to DW.
Mr Blienert highlighted that that no other European country is as bad at protecting its people from alcohol and tobacco harm as Germany.
The suggestions for alcohol policy improvements by the German government’s top official dealing with addictive substances are part of a broader call to improve health by better protecting Germans from alcohol, tobacco, and gambling harms.
The real extent of alcohol harm in Germany
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.
The annual DHS Yearbook for 2022 showed that high prevalence of alcohol use still remains a big problem in Germany.
The 2022 DHS Yearbook reports the following key information regarding alcohol use and addiction issues in Germany:
- Germany ranks on 13th place among 44 countries for alcohol use according to statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
- This means Germany’s alcohol use among those over the age of 15 years is above the average of the OECD countries per citizen.
- The report highlights that there is no safe level for alcohol use and it is best to not use alcohol at all.
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.
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.
One city of Germany helps to illustrate the economic damage caused by alcohol: In 2021, in the city of Dortmund there were 5,938 days of sick leave due to alcohol problems. This shows that there is a significant productivity loss caused by the products of the alcohol industry in Germany, illustrated by the case of Dortmund.
A number of factors have led to increased alcohol use among the citizens of the country:
- Low prices of alcohol,
- Ineffective and outdated alcohol policy measures, and
- Lack of evidence-based and comprehensive alcohol taxation.
The way forward
Mr Blienert’s call for a paradigm shift in alcohol policy in Germany is rooted in the government’s coalition agreement.
The government coalition consisting of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens (Die Grünen), and Free Democrats (FDP) included in their coalition contract several commitments to improve alcohol policy, with the clearest commitment being to strengthen alcohol advertising regulations in line with latest evidence.
Mr Blienert has already called for an age limit increase in February 2022.
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 Commissioner said he wanted to raise the minimum age for alcohol use to 18 years for the lower strength products. 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.
It is clear that Mr Blienert is renewing his calls and emphasizing the commitment of the German government to prevent and reduce alcohol harm.
German government has committed to address alcohol harm more effectively
The new German coalition government in their governing contract has 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.
Latest German Alcohol Atlas illustrated need for alcohol policy paradigm shift
The Alcohol Atlas 2022 was released by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ just ahead of the National Cancer Prevention Week in Germany. The DKFZ together with the German Cancer Aid, and the German Cancer Society are calling on the government to improve alcohol policy in Germany. Specific calls to action are about raising the minimum legal age to 18 years for all alcohol purchases, regulating alcohol marketing, and increasing alcohol taxes.
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
The need for alcohol policy improvements
Adding to the problem is the stranglehold that the alcohol lobby has had on 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.
Washington Post: “Germany’s drugs czar wants alcohol, tobacco ads restricted“
ABC News: “Germany’s drugs czar wants alcohol, tobacco ads restricted“
DW News: “German drugs czar wants alcohol, tobacco ads restricted“
Fox News: “German government calls for tougher restrictions on advertising of alcohol, tobacco, sports betting“