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Will new European Commission finally address alcohol and cancer?

President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, in her mission letter to Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner-designate for health, asked for action on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

Europe is the heaviest drinking region of the world with 9,8 litres of pure alcohol per person (15 + years), well-above the global average of 6.4 litres. Drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing more than 200 different types of diseases. Every day in EU+ countries around 800 people die from alcohol attributable causes (291.000 per year). Young people are disproportionately affected by alcohol. While 5,5% of all deaths in a population are alcohol attributable, in the age group 15-19 this is 19% and in the age group 20-24 it is even higher and constitutes 23,3%.

In 2016 the main cause of the death due to alcohol in Europe was cancer (29%) followed by liver cirrhosis (20%) and injury (18%).

Ethanol found in all alcoholic beverages is classified as group 1 carcinogen, alcohol can cause cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectum and breast.

First conclusive links between alcohol and cancer were established back in 1987, yet 25 years later only 36% of EU citizens are aware of it.
Regrettably, the link between alcohol and cancer is often forgotten by the public

There is a continued need to focus on preventing and reducing alcohol related harm in Europe with a special focus on cross border actions like:·

  • Alcohol Pricing Policies including increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages
  • Restrict exposure to alcohol marketing, with special focus on digital marketing
  • Labelling of alcoholic beverages; ingredient listing, nutritional information and health information
  • Regulate physical availability of retailed alcohol 
  • Drink driving policies and countermeasures

With the specific action plan on cancer prevention it is hoped the new European Commission will address the missing link between alcohol and cancer, as well as introduce effective alcohol policy tools to fulfil its EU’s obligation towards SDG target 3.5.

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