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Markos Kyprianou

European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

The Commission challenges industry to cooperate on reducing alcohol related harm

Speech by Commissioner Kyprianou to the European Forum on Responsible Drinking
Stockholm, 30 October 2006

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address Chief Executive Officers of leading European wine, beer and spirits companies.

This event comes at an opportune moment – less than a week after the Commission adopted the Communication on an EU strategy aimed at fighting alcohol-related harm.

As you know very well, the Communication is not about alcohol consumption as such – it is about alcohol abuse.

To be frank, I have been disappointed to see that some senior players in your industry have deliberately painted a false picture of what the Communication is about, and about what we are trying to achieve.

Indeed, some of you have used the media to give the impression that the Commission is hell-bent on spoiling the pleasure of those who enjoy alcohol in moderation.

You know very well that this is not the case.

Moderate consumption of alcohol by healthy adults, who are not pregnant or driving, does not pose any particular health risks. Moderate alcohol consumption can even offer some protection from heart disease in the over 45s.

But we cannot and must not ignore that alcohol related harm kills 195,000 people a year in the EU, and that 10,000 deaths a year are due to alcohol-related road traffic accidents.

This is not “spin”. These are facts.

And in addition to the human suffering, the corresponding costs to health care systems, economies and society in general are clearly unacceptable.

I trust none of you would disagree.

The Communication addresses these serious issues of concern in a balanced manner.

It is very clear about respecting the limits of competence, and stating who should do what.

And let me make clear that contrary to claims by some representatives of the alcohol industry, we have never harboured the intention:

  • to harmonise the minimum drinking age;
  • or to propose EU legislation to ban alcohol advertising and sponsorship;
  • or to introduce mandatory health warnings.

But some are now claiming victory in battles that never took place.

What we want to achieve with the Communication is a collaborative effort of all stakeholders and at all levels – local, national and European – in order to contribute to the good health of European citizens and to reduce alcohol-related harm.

We have identified five priority areas:

  • To protect young people, children and the unborn child;
  • To reduce injuries and deaths from alcohol-related road traffic accidents;
  • To prevent alcohol-related harm among adults and reduce the negative impact on the workplace;
  • To inform, educate and raise awareness on the impact of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption, and on appropriate consumption patterns;
  • To develop, support and maintain a common evidence base.

The Communication was underpinned and informed by a wide consultation exercise which revealed wide agreement that action is urgently needed in these priority areas.

Naturally, opinions vary as to what the most effective measures might be.

It is however clear that the alcohol industry must make an active and significant contribution towards measurable progress in all these areas.

And the Communication points the way towards building the necessary multi-stakeholder co-operation – through the establishment of a Forum on Alcohol and Health.

Based on the model of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, the overall objective of this Forum will be to support, to provide input for and to monitor the implementation of the strategy outlined in the Communication.

I should emphasise right from the start that the Forum will not just be a talking shop.

I want to see meaningful and verifiable commitments from all its members – and obviously expectations on the alcohol industry to deliver will be high.

As producers of alcoholic drinks you have a clear responsibility with regard to your products.

The Forum will therefore be a place for you to develop practical measures to live up to and to fulfil this responsibility.

I know that much has been done already, as the example of the European Forum for Responsible Drinking shows.

But I hope that you will agree with me that more needs to be done.

The alcohol industry should for example contribute further to the development of common standards for advertising, marketing and sponsorship, and invest in better training for staff.

Moreover, aside from all health considerations, there is certainly an ethical obligation for the industry not to specifically target young people through the design of alcoholic beverages, or through advertising, sponsoring and marketing.

To conclude, the Communication gives us a framework that can guide and structure our future work. And I use the word “our” deliberately here – to stress the need for an inclusive approach.

Let us therefore begin a constructive and forward-looking debate on substance, based on partnership and focused on action.

I very much count on your active support for taking this work forward – and look forward to our future collaboration.

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