cares price-and-taxation securing-a-truly-healthy-eu-recovery
As European countries are designing policies to rebuild its economies and health systems shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to ensure that EU’s policy coherence is secured
COVID-19 pandemic exposed the shortcomings of Europe’s health policies, but it also provides opportunities to learn from past mistakes. The current crises clearly showed a need for more legally binding powers for the health portfolio within the EU.
Sadly, over the last decades too little effort and resources have been placed on prevention measures. In this regard, the alcohol policy is especially neglected at both European and national levels.
Even more worryingly, across the EU one can notice activities aimed at using the COVID-19 crisis to lower, already weak alcohol policies and obtaining a more privileged position by the alcohol industry.
It has been reported that the wine sector supports demands for higher financial allocations from CAP . We consider that given the well-recognised carcinogenicity of wine as an alcohol product and its contribution as a risk factor to a number of chronic diseases (which are a co-founding factor for higher mortality due to COVID-19), it would be highly irresponsible for the European Institutions to allow greater than usual support for the wine industry. Resources to help the EU recover after a health pandemic should not be allocated to support production and promotion of unhealthy products.
Furthermore, at the European and national levels there are attempts to lower alcohol prices, for instance calling for alleviating tax measures . Sometimes the revival of the hospitality sector is used for this reasoning . Although the hospitality sector heavily relies on alcohol sales, it is not the only product people consume while in bars and restaurants. European Institutions should find ways to support the hospitality sector, without encouraging greater alcohol consumption by lowering the prices on these products.
In France, industry is asking for a decrease of the VAT from 20% to 10% . Moreover, some well-established alcohol policy laws are threatened by proposals to reintroduce alcohol sales and advertising in sports arenas to support sports federations and clubs
Even countries with ambitious and progressive alcohol policies such as Sweden are under pressure to introduce tax relieves for the alcohol industry.
Although taxation is primarily a national competence, the European Institutions are well positioned to set out recommendations to Member States how to support EU’s businesses without hindering health.
A result of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be promotion of policies that reduce taxes on alcohol products and reductions of VAT.
Given that the WHO European region continues to have the highest level of alcohol consumption per capita globally and proportionately higher levels of burden of disease attributable to alcohol use compared to other regions, it would be irresponsible for European countries to promote fiscal policies that are in juxtaposition to health policies.
Price of alcoholic beverages has been identified as one of the three “best buy” policies due to the considerable evidence showing that regulating the price of alcohol through means such as taxation, or other policies like minimum unit pricing, reduces overall consumption and associated harm. Price also plays a crucial role in combating alcohol-related risks in vulnerable populations, influencing consumers’ preferences and halting progression towards drinking large volumes of alcohol and/or episodes of heavy drinking.
Alcohol, even in very small quantities, is known to cause certain types of cancer. Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
It has to be noted that some alcohol producers rapidly reacted to the pandemic and contributed to common efforts to fight the virus, for instance by donations of hand sanitizers and supporting local communities.
However, was this driven by genuine altruism of these companies acting as corporate citizens or just an empty calculated CSR move aimed at gaining policy leeway?
Europe’s key decision-makers in the coming days need to ensure that Europe’s economic recovery is a healthy one in every sense of that word and not promote unhealthy products.
WHO Europe 2019, Status report on alcohol consumption, harm and policy responses in 30 European countries.