Implementing the European Action Plan on Alcohol
8 years after the adoption of the WHO European Action Plan on Alcohol (EAPA), the region has the highest prevalence of alcohol users, heavy episodic alcohol use, alcohol consumption per capita, and the lowest proportion of abstainers, compared with other WHO regions.
Most worryingly, one in every four deaths in young adults (aged 20–24 years) is caused by alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol is a substantial contributor to inequalities in health.
According to WHO, the most cost-effective policy options for member states to reduce the harmful use of alcohol are the so-called best buys for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. However, member states’ efforts to introduce these measures are often diluted by trade agreements, economic interests, or exposure to cross-border issues (eg, online advertising and sales).
According to the policy index score for alcohol policies, achievements in ten key areas of the EAPA show wide differences between countries and room for improvement. Pricing policies were the worst performing. Reducing the availability of alcohol and regulating its marketing show a wide range of scores, with implementation rates considerably low in many countries.
Alcohol policy best buy implementation across Europe
Limiting alcohol availability
Limiting alcohol availability, such as restricting hours or days of sale and raising minimum age limits, can contribute to the reduction of alcohol related issues. However, several countries evolved from having partly implemented regulations to having no or unknown levels of regulations.
Regulation of alcohol marketing
Regulation of alcohol marketing varies between countries. For example, Lithuania has recently implemented a close to total marketing ban, whereas other countries have voluntary industry self-regulation.
A major challenge is the rapid evolvement of digital communication, particularly the difficulty to discern commercial interests behind social media content. Finland is the only country that has implemented legislation that specifically targets social media and online marketing. Regulation of fast changing online landscapes is challenging and national legislations often lag behind. Many aspects of digital commercial communications are still unknown to policy-makers and researchers in public health.
Implementation of the best buys pricing policies
Implementation of the best buys pricing policies are still low across Europe. Simple approaches, such as linking tax rates to inflation, have only been implemented by a few countries. Although there is huge variation in alcohol tax rates and systems across the continent, no country taxes all alcoholic products on the basis of their alcohol content; an approach that is likely to be more effective for both improving health and reducing health inequalities.
Fortunately, the picture is not universally bleak. Russia and Scotland, for example, have taken strong action on prices in recent years through the introduction of innovative policies (eg, minimum unit pricing).
The way forward
The report on the European region consultation on the implementation and achievements of the EAPA 2012–2020 highlights the need for a new roadmap that will, first, aim to strengthen the implementation of the EAPA at the country level and, second, to support member states to achieve targets set in important public health commitments, such as those related to reducing non-communicable diseases and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.