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Policy Issues

EU Alcohol Strategy

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.

Pricing and Taxation

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 Unit Price (MUP)

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)

Follow the process on MUP on alcohol from the Scottish Parliament webpage

Marketing

Alcohol marketing ranges from mass media advertising to sponsorship of events, product placement, internet, merchandise, usage of other products connected with alcohol brands, social networks etc. 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, which was adopted in 1989 and revised for the first time in 1997.

On 13 December 2005, the Commission proposed a new revision in order to take account of rapid technological changes and developments in the audiovisual services market such as video on demand, mobile television and audiovisual services via digital television.

On 24 May 2007, the European Parliament and the Council agreed on the proposal. The new Directive on Audiovisual Media Services entered into force on 19 December 2007. Member States have until 19 December 2009 to incorporate its provisions into national law.

Labelling

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.

07/12/2007

Alcohol and Trade

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.

Road Safety

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 and the Workplace

Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption is one of the main causes of premature death and avoidable disease and furthermore has a negative impact on working capacity. Alcohol-related absenteeism or drinking during working hours have a negative impact on work performance, competitiveness and productivity. Often forgotten is the impact of drinkers on the productivity of people other than the drinker. Moreover, about 20 to 25% of all accidents at work involve intoxicated people injuring themselves and other victims, including co-workers.

Eurocare is one of the partners in the European Workplace and Alcohol (EWA) project, and please visit the EWA webpage for more indebt background and information on alcohol and the workplace.

Alcohol Related Diseases

In Europe alcohol is the 3rd leading risk factor for disease and death.

Alcohol is a cause of some 60 different types of disease and condition, including:

- cancers
- liver disease
- cardiovascular diseases
- gastrointestinal conditions
- immunological disorders
- lung diseases
- skeletal and muscular diseases
- reproductive disorders
- pre- natal harm, including and increased risk of prematurity and low birth

Youth

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.

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the leading known cause of birth defects and developmental disorders in the EU.

It affects about 1% of people in the EU27 (i.e. nearly 5 million people) and is the only one that is 100% preventable.

Alcohol Policy and the WHO

During the Sixty-third session of the World Health Assembly, held in Geneva in May 2010, the 193 Member States of WHO reached an historical consensus on a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol by adopted resolution WHA63.13. The adopted resolution and endorsed strategy gives guidance to both Member States and to the WHO Secretariat on ways to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

Follow the process for implementing the WHA 61.4 resolution and preparing a draft global strategy to reduce harmful use of alcohol here

For more information, go to the WHO's global website or the WHO's regional European website.

Mental Health

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.

Alcohol and Inequalities

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.