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Alcohol in the European Union: Consumption, harm and policy approaches

Alcohol in the European Union: Consumption, harm and policy approaches

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This new report uses information gathered in 2011 to update key indicators on alcohol consumption, health outcomes and action to reduce harm across the European Union (EU). It gives an overview of the latest research on effective alcohol policies, and includes data from the EU, Norway and Switzerland on alcohol consumption, harm and policy approaches. The data were collected from a 2011 survey, carried out as part of a project of the European Commission and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The report updates the evidence base for some important areas of alcohol policy, and provides policy-makers and other stakeholders in reducing the harm done to health and society by excessive drinking with useful information to guide future action.
This new report uses information gathered in 2011 to update key indicators on alcohol consumption, health outcomes and action to reduce harm across the European Union (EU). It gives an overview of the latest research on effective alcohol policies, and includes data from the EU, Norway and Switzerland on alcohol consumption, harm and policy approaches. The data were collected from a 2011 survey, carried out as part of a project of the European Commission and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The report updates the evidence base for some important areas of alcohol policy, and provides policy-makers and other stakeholders in reducing the harm done to health and society by excessive drinking with useful information to guide future action.

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Published by: Joaquín Vicente Ramos Rodríguez on May 19, 2012
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The WHO Regional Office for Europe has a long history of taking action on alcohol. It was the
first regional office to address the problem, starting in 1975 with the scientific publication
Alcohol control policies in a public health perspective (Bruun et al., 1975). This was followed by
two further scientific publications, Alcohol policy and the public good by Edwards et al. (1994)
and Alcohol, no ordinary commodity by Babor et al. (2003; 2010). At a political level, action
culminated in the European Alcohol Action Plan 1992–1999, first endorsed by the Member
States in 1992, which was complemented by the European Charter on Alcohol in 1995 and
updated in 2000 (WHO Regional Office for Europe, 1992; 1995; 2000). In 2006, the Member
States endorsed the Framework for alcohol policy in the WHO European Region, which provides
a frame for implementing the European Alcohol Action Plan (WHO Regional Office for Europe,
2006), and in September 2011 a new European Action Plan to Reduce the Harmful Use of
Alcohol 2012–2020
was adopted by the Regional Committee (WHO Regional Office for Europe,
2011). More recent publications include the European status report on alcohol and health 2010,
Evidence for the effectiveness and cost–effectiveness of interventions to reduce alcohol-related
harm
and Handbook for action to reduce alcohol-related harm (WHO Regional Office for
Europe, 2009a; 2009b; 2010). The work of the Region was given a boost in 2010 with the
adoption of the WHO Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol (WHO, 2010).

In the EU, strategy-level work on alcohol and health took longer to start. Although the internal
market framework has affected alcohol policy issues throughout the history of the European
Community and the EU (Sulkunen, 1982), specific action on alcohol as a public health issue can
be said to have started in 2001, with European Council conclusions inviting the European
Commission (EC) to develop a Community strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm (European
Council, 2001a) and a Council recommendation to address drinking by young people,
particularly children and adolescents (European Council, 2001b). At about the same time, the
European Parliament and Council adopted a programme of Community action in the field of
public health (2003–2008) with financing available for alcohol projects, a provision that was
later renewed in a second programme (2008–2013) (European Council, 2002; 2007). EU action
on alcohol culminated in 2006 with a Commission Communication on an EU strategy to support
member states in reducing alcohol-related harm (European Commission, 2006). The
Communication highlighted five priority themes: protecting young people, children and the
unborn child; reducing injuries and death from alcohol-related road accidents; preventing
alcohol-related harm among adults and reducing the negative impact on the workplace;
informing, educating and raising awareness about the impact of harmful and hazardous alcohol
consumption, and about appropriate consumption patterns; and developing and maintaining a
common evidence base at EU level.

The first two chapters of this report highlight the harm that alcohol can do to individuals,
societies and communities. These are followed by a third chapter which, while reminding of the
potential harm from illicit alcohol, concludes that this is probably not a major health problem for
the EU. There then follows a series of chapters summarizing and reporting on new evidence of
effectiveness of various public health policies on alcohol, published since a comprehensive
compilation of research-based knowledge on public health aspects of alcohol (Anderson &
Baumberg, 2006) was prepared for the European Commission to inform the preparation of the
EU strategy. The fields covered are: information and education, health sector responses,
reduction of injuries and deaths from alcohol-related road crashes, community action, drinking
environments, alcohol and the workplace, the availability of alcohol, the marketing of alcohol
and the price of alcohol. Where appropriate, each chapter also summarizes some of the key

Alcohol in the European Union
page 3

alcohol-related projects and activities that have been financed or co-financed by the
Commission. The nine policy-focused chapters are followed by a chapter summarizing what is
known about the cost–effectiveness of implementing different polices, and then a chapter on a
common evidence base and monitoring. The chapter on the EU status report on alcohol
consumption, health outcomes and policies represents the results of a survey carried out in 2011,
reporting the situation as at 31 December 2010. The chapter notes that while there is still a long
way to go and policy has yet to result in noticeable impacts in reductions of per capita alcohol
consumption (the main determinant of harm), the implementation of alcohol policies has clearly
moved forward over the past five or six years. A final chapter of conclusions brings everything
together and stresses the importance of implementing evidence-based policy to improve the
health and well-being of European citizens as well as supporting the sustainability and
productivity of the EU as a whole.

References

Anderson P, Baumberg B (2006). Alcohol in Europe. A public health perspective. London, Institute of
Alcohol Studies (http://ec.europa.eu/health-eu/doc/alcoholineu_content_en.pdf, accessed 18 February
2012).

Babor TF et al. (2003). Alcohol: no ordinary commodity. Research and public policy. Oxford, Oxford
University Press.

Babor TF et al. (2010). Alcohol: no ordinary commodity, 2nd ed. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Bruun K et al. (1975). Alcohol control policies in public health perspective. Helsinki, Finnish Foundation
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Edwards G et al. (1994). Alcohol policy and the public good. New York, Oxford University Press.

European Commission (2006). Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European
Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. An EU
strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol related harm
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European Council (2001a). Council conclusions of 5 June 2001 on a Community strategy to reduce alcohol-
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Alcohol in the European Union
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Alcohol in the European Union
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