Speaking at a high-level conference of the EU Presidency, the Belgium Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke emphasized the need for policy action in preventing alcohol and tobacco harm to achieve public health goals.

A high-level conference on the future of the EU Health Union was held in Brussels in late March, 2024, Euronews reported. The Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke attended and spoke at the event. One of the main topics discussed at the conference was the need to prevent alcohol and tobacco harm.

To tackle the alcohol and tobacco burden, the European Commission introduced Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, in 2021. The Plan also includes ambitious actions to prevent alcohol and tobacco harm as part of reducing Europe’s cancer burden.

Addressing the gathering, the Belgian Minister highlighted the importance of translating this plan into tangible results that benefited the public.

We must ensure that preventive action set out in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan can translate into tangible results, this is just crucial for the well-being of Europeans.”

Frank Vandenbroucke, Health Minister, Belgium

Alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and junk food consumption are the leading causes for cancer. They are also the main causal factors for other major NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Despite this high burden of alcohol and tobacco harm, OECD countries allocate less than 3% of their health spending on average on public health and prevention activities.

The importance of addressing underlying structural issues in achieving public health goals

The Health Minister also took the opportunity to stress the need to address underlying structural issues in achieving crucial health goals. All too often, health advocates addressed public health goals as matter of individual choice rather than a symptom of a larger issue. For example, the public should have equitable access to the information necessary to make healthy decisions for themselves. On the other hand, the government also should take steps to tackle the structural inequalities that prevent people from making healthy decisions.

Preventing the proliferation and promotion of health harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco is part of these structural issues. The Health Minister especially made reference to the alcohol and tobacco industries’ business models as part of the structural issues that drive ill health. These industries exploit humans for their narrow profit interests.

The role of the EU in creating an environment, a market that promotes a healthy lifestyle is key, and I think it is underrated,” said the Minister.

There is need for more initiatives to address alcohol and tobacco.”

Frank Vandenbroucke, Health Minister, Belgium

The European Parliament fails to prioritise public health goals

In 2022, Movendi International highlighted how the alcohol industry’s lobbying push led to the alcohol-related aspects of the NCDs report prepared by the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) becoming the most contentious topic in the overall deliberations. Among the 70 MEPs who spoke on the matter, 25 specifically addressed alcohol, with many echoing the talking points and myths promoted by major alcohol companies. Concerningly, a majority of comments from political party groups ID and EPP echoed the spin of the alcohol industry.

The alterations and complexities introduced into the original BECA report by the European Parliament not only contradict the established scientific consensus that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption regarding cancer risk but also prioritize private profits over the health and welfare of Europeans.

In recent years the alcohol policy agenda has been frozen in the EU due to aggressive alcohol industry interference and policy makers in the European Commission and law makers in the European Parliament doing the dirty work for Big Alcohol.

These episodes illustrate the importance of political leaders such as Mr Vandenbroucke prioritizing and speaking out on the need for ambitious action on alcohol harm, protecting people and decision-making processes from the alcohol industry, using the EU to advance alcohol policy.

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Source Website: Euronews