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European health and safety organisations call for stricter EU-coordinated alcohol policies

Twelve European health and safety umbrella organisations call for stricter EU-coordinated alcohol policies. In a joint policy statement released today, the twelve organisations urge the EU Council of Ministers of Health:

  • to ensure minimum pricing policies, sales restrictions and discount bans in all Member States;
  • to introduce a EU- labelling system for alcohol products informing consumers of the specific risks related to alcohol consumption; and
  • to adopt the principle of zero tolerance to alcohol consumption before driving or at work and to reduce BAC- levels to 0,2 maximum throughout Europe.

Alcohol on the agenda of EU-Council

On the 30th of November 2009, the EU Ministers of Health will gather in the EU-Council for Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs. At that occasion, the Swedish Presidency will propose a stronger EUcoordinated approach in alcohol policies.

Alcohol consumption forms an integral part of the European culture. Fortunately, a large majority of those who consume alcohol do so in moderation. However, the European region is the heaviest drinking region in the world, consuming on average more than 2,5 times as much alcohol as the rest of the world.
In a joint policy statement, twelve European umbrella organisations working in the field of health and safety in Europe, call upon the Ministers of Health to endorse the Presidency initiative and to decide for more vigorous alcohol policies in order to effectively reduce injuries and violence due to alcohol.
Innocent victims of alcohol

‘”Alcohol is a toxic substance and is a major risk factor for accidents and injuries”, says Wim Rogmans, general secretary EuroSafe. Around 40% of all unintentional and intentional injury deaths are attributed to alcohol consumption in Europe. In the EU, each year alcohol is responsible for at least:

– 10 800 road traffic accident deaths;
– 27 000 accidental deaths at home, at work or in leisure time;
– 2 000 deaths due to interpersonal violence; and
– 10 000 suicides.

Alcohol does not only harm the individual drinker, but also harms innocent bystanders such as young children in families disrupted by alcohol (5-9 million children), vulnerable road users, and victims of domestic violence and street crime.

Priority to health and safety

“Health and safety aspects related to alcohol consumption should be prioritised over free trade interests”, says Johan Lund, president of the Injury Section of the European Public Health Association. “Alcoholic drinks should therefore not be considered as an ordinary consumer product”.

National authorities and the European Commission need to cooperate towards a much stricter regulation and enforcement of controls on the marketing, sale and consumption of alcohol. There must also be a renewed effort to increase risk awareness among consumers.

This is fully justified because:

– consumers, as potential victims of alcohol related accidents and violence, have the right to be protected from harm done to them by alcohol; and
– alcohol related harm has an substantial impact on the entire EU region and countries have difficulties in dealing with this in isolation.

Stricter alcohol policies needed

The organisations that endorse the joint policy statement, call upon Member States and the European Commission to ensure a stricter and more co-ordinated alcohol control policies in order to effectively address this important risk factor to injuries and violence, by:

– ensuring minimum pricing policies, sales restrictions and discount bans in all Member States;
– introducing a EU- labelling system for alcohol products informing consumers of the specific risks related to alcohol consumption; and by
– adopting the principle of zero tolerance to alcohol consumption before driving or at work by reducing BAClevels to 0,2 mg/ml maximum throughout Europe (currently in most member states set at 0,5 mg/ml).

“Public health authorities should increase their efforts in education, and public awareness rising campaigns”, says Mariann Skar, general secretary European Alcohol Policy Alliance. Special attention needs be given to:

– youth and young adults: as it is proven that an earlier age of onset of alcohol consumption, tends to lead to greater consumption at adult age, delaying the age of onset can help reduce harm;
– workplace settings: as those in the workforce represent the bulk of heavy drinkers, the workplace is a promising setting for primary prevention; and
– older persons: as at older age, body and mind become less tolerant to alcohol in particular while combined with medicines, older people need to be made aware of the risks involved.

Mrs. Skar highlights also other cost-effective measure addressing individuals at risk: “brief advice by health professionals in primary care setting or emergency departments has also been shown to be most effective. The health sector should also systematically collect information pertaining to alcohol use from all injured patients attending emergency units. This information should be used for driving the political agenda at local, regional and national level”.

source: EuroSafe

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