The European Parliament (EP) has adopted a Resolution calling on the European Commission to present a new EU Alcohol Strategy to tackle health harm for 2016-2022. The clear message from MEPs comes just a week after EU Health Ministers meeting in Riga called on the Commission 1 to take action on the health impacts of alcohol. Both MEPs and Ministers have criticized the Commission for failing to update the previous EU Alcohol Strategy which expired in 2012.
Today's European Parliament Resolution calls for a new Strategy, emphasising the importance of better labeling of alcoholic drinks including ingredients and nutritional information with special focus on calories, and the need to raise awareness across the EU of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and drink driving.
A coalition of public health organisations2 welcomes the EP's decision as a step towards reducing harm from alcohol in Europe. Today's resolution - coupled with the strong view of EU Health Ministers - is a wake-up call to the European Commission to move ahead urgently with a new EU Alcohol Strategy and measures to urgently reduce the severity, scope and huge cost imposed by alcohol-related diseases across Europe, which claim 120,000 lives every year in the EU.
Alcohol-abuse is the leading risk factor for ill-health and premature death for the working age population (25-59 years) in Europe3. The societal costs of alcohol use in Europe are in excess of € 155 billion per year across the EU4.
Alcohol-related harm costs Europe at least 2-3% of GDP, mostly from lost productivity and massive healthcare costs. "Prevention of alcohol related harm is a smart investment for the economy, it cuts long-term healthcare expenditures and at the same time raises workforce productivity," says Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare. "The Commission needs to respond to Ministers and the Parliament with a decisive new Alcohol Strategy. The lack of a Strategy is currently undermining Europe's efforts for jobs and growth," went on to say Mrs Skar.
The resolution also includes a reference to Minimum Unit Price (MUP). Addressing alcohol-related harm is also crucial to reduce health inequalities, as the burden of disease and deaths related to alcohol disproportionately affect the most deprived. One of the most cost-effective ways for society to minimise the damage from alcohol consumption is a MUP, such as that proposed by the Scottish Government5.
Alcohol abuse is a major public health issue in every EU country that requires coordinated action. "The Parliament vote, coupled with the call from EU Health Ministers should shame the Commission into action on alcohol. Years of EU inaction have allowed the alcohol industry to hide the harm - and even the calories - in their drinks. The Commission is currently fixated on "Better Regulation", but what's "Better" about the Commission failing in its duty to protect public health?," concluded Nina Renshaw, EPHA Secretary-General.
Six facts on alcohol abuse
- Alcohol is the 3rd top risk factor in Europe for ill health and NCDs such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- Alcohol is a toxic substance in terms of its direct and indirect effects on a wide range of body organs and a cause of some 60 diseases. Taking all diseases and injuries at global level into account, the negative health impact of alcohol consumption is 31.6 times higher than benefit
- 12 million people in the EU are dependent on alcohol.
- Around 9 million children in the EU are living with one parent addicted to alcohol.
- 1 of 4 road fatalities in EU are due to alcohol; in 2010 nearly 31,000 Europeans were killed on the roads of which 25% were related to alcohol.
- Alcohol is responsible 1 in 7 male deaths and 1 in 13 female deaths in the group aged 15-64 years, resulting in approximately 120 000 premature deaths.