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07/04/2009

Report suggests affordability of alcohol is a driver of consumption and harm

On Monday 6 April 2009, DG Sanco released a comprehensive report commissioned to RAND Europe on the affordability[1] of alcoholic beverages in the EU. The study found a positive relationship between alcohol affordability, consumption and harms.

[1] Affordability is a function of relative price and disposable income.

The report, "Understanding the link between alcohol affordability, consumption and harms", analyses the effect of alcohol affordability on consumption and three measures of associated harm: fatal traffic accidents, increase in traffic injuries and chronic liver cirrhosis. These findings refute the longstanding argument of the industry that price and affordability have no effect on consumption and harm.

Affordability of alcohol beverages in EU

The report suggests that in 18 Member States, affordability of alcohol has increased over the past twelve years. For some countries, alcohol affordability has more than doubled over this period. More notably, alcohol appears to have become relatively more affordable for 16-24 year olds compared to the general population.

Young people are particularly sensitive to changes in price

Studies have shown that young people are sensitive to alcohol price changes, and that price increases lead not only to reduced frequency of drinking but also to smaller quantities drunk in each drinking event. This has important implications for alcohol policy especially across the EU, where there is growing recognition of the high incidence of hazardous youth drinking.

Positive relationship between alcohol affordability and consumption

Researchers found that an increase in affordability is associated with an increase in consumption in the short term; a finding consistent with existing research

Positive relationship between alcohol consumption and three measures of harm

In addition, the report finds statistically significant, positive relationships between consumption and fatal traffic accidents, traffic injuries and liver cirrhosis.

A 1% increase in consumption is associated with an increase of:

- 0.86% in fatal traffic accidents,

- 0.61% in traffic injuries,

- 0.37% in chronic liver cirrhosis

Lila Rabinovich, the lead author of the report said: "The report provides the first comprehensive assesment of the affordability of alcohol in the European Union. It shows that alcohol has become more affordable in most EU Member States over the last decade, This increase in affordability should be of concern to policy-makers, as this study also demonstrates that increases in affordability are linked to increases in consumption, which in turn lead to increases in alcohol harms. The findings of this study thus suggest that pricing policy could be an important part of an effective policy mix to tackle harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption".

Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare, welcomed the report and added "WHO recommendations have consistently pinpointed pricing policies as one of the most effective measures to reduce consumption and harm. However it should be remember that no stand alone measure will solve alcohol related problems. The way forward is an integrated approach including: regulating the promotion and availability of alcohol, drink driving countermeasures, education and awareness raising as well as treatment and early interventions".

[1] Affordability is a function of relative price and disposable income.

Notes to editors

1. The Report was commissioned in the context of the European Alcohol Health Forum, a multi stakeholder platform bringing together economic operators and NGOs.

2. The report is available on the European Commission's website:

http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_determinants/life_style/alcohol/news_rand_en.htm

3. Media Contacts:

Eurocare Secretariat.

Tel: +32 2 736 39 76

4.The EU is the heaviest drinking region in the world, with an average of 11 litres of pure alcohol per person per year (11 litres amounts to 1,400 small beers per person per year). Alcohol is the key health determinant in Europe.

Causing some 60 different types of diseases and conditions (including accidents and injuries, mental and behavioural problems, cancers heart diseases and stroke), alcohol is the third highest risk factor, responsible for 7.4% of all ill-health and early death in the EU.

Alcohol is also a contributory factor in a wide range of social problems including domestic violence, crime, anti-social behaviour, family breakdown, child abuse and child neglect. one in three of all road traffic fatalities are caused by alcohol.

Over 60,000 underweight births are due to alcohol each year, and drinking during pregnancy is a major cause of birth defects with life long consequences. More than a quarter of young adult deaths in men are due to alcohol, and 10,000 suicides are caused by alcohol each year.

50,000 Europeans die each year of an alcohol caused cancer, including 11,000 female deaths from breast cancer. Children bear the brunt of alcohol related harm. One in six of child abuse is due to alcohol and more than 7 million children live in families wrecked by alcohol.

Two fifths of all domestic violence inflicted on women is due to alcohol and alcohol is a cause of two fifths of all murders. Alcohol costs Europe an estimated 125 billion euros (equivalent to €650 for each household) every year due to ill-health, accidents and injuries, crime and lost productivity.