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European strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm

This Communication sets out a European strategy to support the Member States in reducing the problems related to harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption. To this end it sets priority themes, identifies the different levels of action and lists the measures taken by the Member States to encourage good practices. The Commission's actions will complement national strategies in this area.

ACT

Communication from the Commission of 24 October 2006, "An EU strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol-related harm" [COM(2006) 625 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

This strategy specifically targets the harmful and hazardous effects of alcohol consumption rather than the product itself. The objective is to reduce the damage caused by this kind of alcohol consumption, both in terms of health and the economic and social impact.

Five priorities

The strategy sets out five priorities with a view to reducing the harmful and hazardous effects of alcohol consumption in the European Union. For each of these it explains the rationale for action and highlights the good practices implemented by the Member States.

Protecting young people and children

Three aims will be pursued:

  • to curb underage drinking and reduce hazardous drinking among young people;
  • to reduce the harm suffered by children in families with alcohol-related problems;
  • to reduce exposure to alcohol during pregnancy.

Harmful alcohol consumption among young people can be effectively addressed by means of public policy. Examples of measures implemented by Member States are: restrictions on sales, availability and marketing which is considered likely to influence young people.

The alcoholic beverage industry and retailers can play an important role in this area.

Preventing drink-driving

Approximately one road accident in four is caused by alcohol. For young people, traffic accidents are the most common cause of death.

The risk of alcohol-related road traffic accidents increases in line with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the driver. For this reason, all Member States have taken measures to introduce BAC limits. Examples of good practices include the enforcement of frequent random breath testing, supported by education and awareness campaigns. Another example is the introduction of a lower or zero BAC limit for young drivers and also for public transport drivers and drivers of commercial vehicles.

Reducing alcohol-related harm among adults

The aims of the strategy are to:

  • decrease alcohol-related chronic physical and mental disorders;
  • decrease the number of alcohol-related deaths;
  • provide information to consumers so that they can make informed choices;
  • contribute to the reduction of alcohol-related harm at the workplace.

Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption is one of the main causes of premature death among adults and also has a negative impact on worker productivity (e.g. through absenteeism).

A number of measures can prevent alcohol-related harm among adults and reduce the negative impacts in the workplace, including licence enforcement, server training, workplace-based interventions and campaigns promoting moderate consumption.

Raising awareness

The strategy is intended to raise awareness among EU citizens of the impacts of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption on health, fitness for work and driving performance.

Measures which can achieve this objective include broad-based health education programmes, beginning in early childhood and ideally continuing throughout adolescence. This type of intervention can raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol and limit risk-inducing behaviour. Media campaigns, such as the Euro-Bob initiative aimed at preventing drink-driving, can also be used to this end.

Collecting reliable data

The Commission will compile and update statistics on alcohol consumption and on the impact of policy measures. The data will then be used to draw up and implement measures to tackle the effects of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption.

Levels of action

National action

Alcohol is essentially an issue for the Member States and to be dealt with within the remit of their national policies. Most of them have put in place legislation and policies related to alcohol abuse. Moreover, in 2005, fifteen Member States reported that they had adopted national action plans, or had set up bodies for coordinating alcohol policy.

The range of measures implemented by Member States is very wide and includes initiatives such as education, information, traffic controls, the introduction of blood alcohol concentration limits, licences for selling alcoholic beverages and the setting of alcohol taxation levels.

Action by the European Commission

The Community's role in this strategy is to complement Member States' efforts, add value to their actions and deal with common issues that Member States cannot handle on their own.

Notably the Commission will take action by applying two Community programmes:

Coordination of actions at EU level

The Commission will seek to improve coherence between all policies that have an impact on action taken in relation to alcohol. It also intends to set up an Alcohol and Health Forum by June 2007, which will bring together experts from different stakeholder organisations, representatives from the Member States and the EU institutions. The Forum will support the implementation of the EU alcohol strategy.

The Commission will work with stakeholders to promote the responsible marketing of alcoholic beverages, particularly with regard to advertising. A further aim of this joint effort will be to reach an agreement with representatives from the sectors concerned (hospitality, producers, media, advertising, etc.) on a code of commercial communication implemented at national and EU levels. The Commission will also regularly monitor advertising practices and the impact of self-regulatory codes on young people's drinking, as well as industry compliance with such codes.

Background

Excessive alcohol consumption is a real public health problem, causing an estimated 7.4 % of all health problems and early deaths in the EU. Young people are particularly at risk, as over 10 % of female mortality and around 25 % of male mortality in the 15-29 age group is related to hazardous alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse among young people is increasing in the Member States, particularly with trends such as binge-drinking. A further 10 000 people are killed in alcohol-related road accidents each year.

This strategy forms part of the follow-up to two Council documents:

Last updated: 30.06.2011

See also

  • Directorate General Health and Consumers - Alcohol
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