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NGO recommendations to the new EU Action Plan on Alcohol

As the international NGO that represents NGOs on Alcohol Policy across the European Union, Eurocare wishes to contribute initial ideas as the new EU Action Plan begins to be drafted.

Eurocare - Initial NGO recommendations for the new EU Action Plan on Alcohol

Notwithstanding time constraints and wishing to get some comments to you by the end of November 2013, we have consulted with our members and other European partners to produce this document. Nonetheless, we understand that there will be a consultation process in developing the final version of the plan and we commit to active participation in that process. As a general point, we would emphasise that the new EU Action Plan needs to complement the WHO “European Action Plan to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, 2012-2020” and to recognise the evidence base to support effective alcohol policies in Europe, as presented by “Alcohol in the European Union” (WHO, 2012).

We also believe that an EU Alcohol Strategy would lay out a longer-term context to support the continuation of efforts at the EU level to address alcohol related harm. In line with several member states, we are disappointed that this has not been forthcoming. Nonetheless, we welcome the announced EU Action Plan on Alcohol (hereafter EU Action Plan) and would offer the following comments on what it should include.

An EU Action Plan must:

  • Be based on the best available scientific evidence
  • Be informed and underpinned by a coherent policy framework
  • Address the full spectrum of alcohol problems within the EU and the need for whole population-level responses
  • Include an approach to all EU policy-making which supports reduction of alcohol harms
  • Set clear targets and objectives and be externally monitored and evaluated
  • Pay attention to the need to reduce health inequalities across the EU and within Member States.

Alcohol is the world’s number one risk factor for ill-health and premature death amongst the 25-59 year old age group, a core of the working age population. Europe is the heaviest drinking region of the world and alcohol is a major threat to the public health, safety and economic prosperity of EU citizens. Alcohol has been classified by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Category One carcinogen, defining it as a determinant of many types of cancer. Increased alcohol consumption is also linked to increasing levels of obesity and diabetes in European populations.

Consumption levels in some EU countries are around 2.5 times higher than the global average[1]. Evidence demonstrates that the harm caused by alcohol is related to overall drinking levels, as well as drinking patterns. Reducing alcohol-related harm across the EU requires action to reduce population alcohol consumption, as measured by per capita consumption of pure alcohol, as well as incidents of risky single occasion drinking.

A substantial evidence base exists on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm. Effective interventions include population-level measures and those targeted at specific high-risk groups. A comprehensive action plan needs to incorporate both types of intervention to reduce alcohol-related harm, not just for problem drinkers but also for other people, such as children, families and communities, who are negatively affected by their drinking behaviours.

The WHO European Action Plan, endorsed by member states at the Regional Committee for Europe in 2011, provides a template for action at EU level. Based on this, we recommend the following items for inclusion in the EU Action Plan:

  • Alcohol pricing policies
  • Marketing of alcoholic beverages
  • Availability of alcohol
  • Drink-driving policies and countermeasures
  • Consumer information – product labelling
  • Alcohol research and monitoring programmes
  • Capacity and network building and learning exchange

In line with the target to reduce total alcohol consumption in Europe by 2020, from an average of 10.2 litres[2] to 9 litres per adult per year, we believe that the EU Action Plan should include a commitment from each Member State to set its own percentage reduction target for overall population consumption of alcohol, negotiated with the Commission.

[1] WHO Europe (2012) Alcohol in the European Union

[2] WHO Europe (2013) Status Report on Alcohol and Health