The urgent need to address alcohol related harms

EPHA response to the WHO Draft Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030

Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity; it is a psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties. The European Region is not spared by alcohol-related harms with alcohol consumption being one of the leading risk factors for the burden of disease in the European Union (EU), and a major cost to public budgets resulting in almost 1 million yearly alcohol-attributable deaths.

In this light, EPHA welcomes the initiative from the World Health Organization (WHO) to tackle alcohol-related harms in its proposed  Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030 (Action Plan) and we are  pleased to have had the opportunity to participate in the related public consultation on the first draft

In its contribution, EPHA specifically highlights the following key priorities:

1. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

Scientific evidence over the past 10 years confirmed that even moderate consumption of alcohol is harmful for one’s health and associated with increased risk of heart diseases and stroke, liver cirrhosis, certain cancers and foetal alcohol disorders (OECD&EU, Health at a Glance, 2020).

2. Public health policies should be protected from the vested interests of the alcohol, agri-food and advertising industries.

To achieve effective and impactful alcohol policies, it is crucial to EPHA to recall that parties with competing interests can play an important role in undermining public interests’ policies. EPHA suggests that the WHO develop a standalone document with specific guidance to Member States on how to protect alcohol policy development, implementation, and evaluation from industries’ interference.

3. New set of enabling and recommended actions to reduce the harmful use of alcohol from WHO

EPHA welcomes the introduction of three new WHO best buys including increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages, enacting and enforcing bans or comprehensive restrictions on exposure to alcohol advertising across multiple types of media, and enacting and enforcing restrictions on the physical availability of retailed alcohol but would recommends strengthening their role along the Action Plan.

4. Make alcohol policies a profitable investment rather than a cost

To convince new stakeholders and to effectively tackle alcohol related harms, EPHA proposes using economic, financial and social arguments along the public health ones so that alcohol policies appear as a profitable investment rather than only a cost.

5. Improve Health literacy on the risks related to alcohol consumption

Finally, EPHA recommends focusing on increasing people’s health literacy on the risks related to alcohol consumption. An effective way to inform consumers could be to implement transparent, mandatory and harmonised alcohol labelling including prominent health warning labels and the list of ingredients and nutritional information.

6. Milestones and indicators to pave the way

The state of implementation of the Action Plan should be closely followed thanks to precise reporting and monitoring milestones and indicators.

The action plan is being developed after calls for accelerated  action to tackle the harmful use of alcohol globally and will be considered by the WHO Health Assembly Executive Board in May 2022 together with the final technical report on the harmful use of alcohol related to cross-border alcohol marketing, advertising and promotional activities, including targeting youth and adolescents expected to be published in November 2021.

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