On 24 October 2006, the European Commission adopted the long awaited Communication setting out a strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol-related harm (EU Alcohol Strategy). The EU Alcohol strategy has been awaited since in June 2001 the Council invited the Commission to put forward proposals for a comprehensive Community strategy aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm to complement national policies.
Despite extensive evidence that raising alcohol prices reduces overall consumption levels, the trend is that the real price of alcoholic beverages and the real value of alcohol taxation has been decreasing.
The real value of the EU alcohol minimum excise duty rates, and of Member States alcohol taxation, has decreased since the mid 1990s in most EU countries. In some countries alcoholic drinks have become more affordable by 50%.
Minimum pricing is a ‘floor price’ beneath which alcohol cannot be sold and is set based on the amount of pure alcohol in a product measured in units or grams so the more grams of pure alcohol in a bottle/can, the higher the price. The relationship between alcohol price, consumption and harm is the foundation on which the policy of minimum pricing is built.
Minimum pricing has been favoured by health advocates as an effective strategy to address the growing health crisis that has resulted from the increased affordability of alcoholic beverages in some countries where supermarkets and shops are using cut price alcohol to attract customers. Minimum pricing guarantees an effect on shelf price, it relates price to alcohol content, and it is simple to apply. Large retailers cannot simply absorb price increases as can happen with other pricing policies.
The Scottish case
Alcohol in the UK is 44% more affordable today than 30 years ago. There has been increased competition between retailers who have responded by cutting prices and offering deep discounts and promotions. The increased affordability of alcohol has been a major driver of rising consumption and harm in the UK in recent decades.
On 24 May 2012, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation to introduce a minimum retail price for alcohol with the aim of increasing the cost of the cheapest, strongest alcohol products in order to reduce and deter harmful drinking. Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012
A study carried out by the University of Sheffield estimated that in the first year alone, introducing a 50p minimum unit price would see:
- 60 fewer deaths
- 1,600 fewer hospital admissions
- 3,500 fewer crimes
Minimum pricing for alcohol was due to come into force in Scotland in 2013. However, the European Commission (EC) has objected to minimum pricing and has asked the UK to abstain from introducing a minimum pricing for alcohol. In its detailed opinion the EC argues that taxation should be used as an alternative to minimum pricing as it is a less trade restrictive measure. The EC claims that alcohol tax increases can achieve the same impact as minimum pricing in reducing alcohol-related harm. Full text of the detailed opinion.
Read the Scottish Government's position on minimum unit pricing of alcohol (april 2013) (available in 21 EU languages)
Alcohol marketing ranges from mass media advertising to sponsorship of events, product placement, online advetisement, merchandise, usage of other products connected with alcohol brands, social networks etc.
There is strong and consistent evidence to show a link between exposure to alcohol marketing and increased alcohol consumption amongst young people: a number of systematic reviews have concluded exposure to alcohol advertising increases the likelihood that young people start drinking at an earlier age, and to drink more if they already use alcohol.
In 2009, the Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum produced a report on marketing which reviewed a number of studies regarding impact of marketing on the volume and patterns of drinking alcohol. It concluded that alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that young people will start to drink alcohol, and that among those who have started to drink, marketing increases the their drinking levels in terms of both amount and frequency.
Alcohol advertising was first regulated at EU level by the EU's "Television without Frontiers" Directive (adopted in 1989, revised in 1997). This was later replaces by the Directive on Audiovisual Media Services (AVMSD), which entered into force on 19 December 2007. The AVMSD was revised in 2010 (Directive 2010/13) and is the current legal framework for alcohol advertisement in EU.
Product labels can serve a number of purposes, providing information about the product to the consumer, enticing the consumer to buy the product and warning consumers of dangers and health risks from the product.
Listing the ingredients contained in a particular beverage alerts the consumer to the presence of any potentially harmful or problematic substances. Even more importantly, providing the nutritional information such as calorie content allows consumer to monitor their diets better and makes it easier to keep a healthy lifestyle.
Alcohol is today the third leading risk factor contributing to the global burden of disease (DALYs- Disability Adjusted Life Years) and is the 8th risk factor for death. Alcohol use has a unique geographical and sex pattern: it exacts the largest toll on men in Africa, in the middle- income countries in the Americas, and in some high- income countries.
Within the European Commission's strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm, reducing injuries and deaths from alcohol-related road accidents is a main priority. The EU aims to support Member States in their efforts to reduce road accidents and fatalities as part of the strategy's focus on alcohol as a lifestyle and health determinant.
Alcohol is one of the world’s leading health risks; use of alcohol is especially harmful for younger age groups. Europe is the heaviest drinking region of the world. Consumption levels in some countries are around 2.5 times higher than the global average. Alcohol harm is disproportionately high among young people (115 000 deaths per year) alarmingly 43% among 15-16 year old European students reported heavy binge drinking during the past 30 days and alcohol is the single biggest cause of death among young men of age 16 to 24.
The reasons why a person drinks and the consequences of drinking too much are closely linked to one’s mental health. The relationship between alcohol misuse and different forms of mental health illness is a complex one. Drinking a lot of alcohol can may accelerate or uncover a predisposition to psychiatric disorder. Alcohol may be also used by some people as a form of self- medication to cope with symptoms of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety as well as the symptoms of psychosis.
The adverse effects of alcohol are exacerbated among those from lower socioeconomic groups; this is especially the case for dependency, which is often accompanied by poor diet and general lack of money.
The difference between EU countries for healthy life expectancy ranges from 57-75 years (18 years) for women and from 57-71 (17 years) for men.
Whilst million of families within the EU are affected by the problem it is difficult to find an accurate assessment of its size. Perceptions on alcohol problems vary from culture to culture and, among those affected, it can often take the ‘character of a shameful secret’. It is being estimated that 23 million people in the EU are dependent on alcohol, which consequently results in 9 million children and young people in the EU living with at least one parent addicted to alcohol. Many of these children are raised in families with alcohol addiction and are exposed to risk behaviour of their parents. Two thirds of the reported victims of domestic violence had been attacked by a person using alcohol, and 16% of cases of child abuse and neglect involve alcohol. Children living with families affected by alcohol related harm tend to have lower school attendance and worse health.