Widespread consumption of alcohol and tobacco in Czechia continues to be cause for concern

Office of the Government of Czechia

From left to right: WHO Representative to Czechia Srdan Matić, Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch, and National Drug Policy Coordinator Jarmial Vedralová present findings on alcohol and tobacco consumption.

In Czechia, consumption of pure alcohol stands at 14.4 litres per person per year, and more than one fifth of the population smokes. This was reported at a conference organized by the Government Council for Drug Policy Coordination on 6 November 2018.

Experts from the health sector and representatives of the state administration discussed these trends; their health, social and economic impacts; and the measures to be implemented in response. WHO recommends the regulation of advertising as well as price regulation, higher taxation and reduction of availability.

At the subsequent meeting with the press, the Council Secretariat clarified that it is planning to implement WHO recommendations in the forthcoming national strategy for 2019–2027. Health Minister Adam Vojtěch pointed to the opportunity for regulations, especially in the area of marketing and advertising of alcoholic beverages.

“The public still perceives alcohol and tobacco as a normal part of life, and the public is very tolerant towards drinking and smoking,” said Jarmila Vedralová, National Drug Policy Coordinator. She emphasized that the negative consequences of alcohol use manifest not only in the area of health, but also in social and other areas such as crime.

Czechs and alcohol consumption

In Czechia, alcohol consumption has slightly increased (to 14.4 litres per person per year) and is well above the average for the WHO European Region (9.8. litres per person per year). Prevalence of heavy episodic drinking (consuming at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol on at least one occasion in the past 30 days – the most detrimental pattern of drinking) among those aged 15–19 in Czechia is very high. According to WHO’s “Global status report on alcohol and health 2018”, almost 70% of Czech youth had engaged in heavy episodic drinking in the last 30 days.

As a consequence, mortality resulting from alcohol consumption is high. In the Region, 10.1% of all deaths and 10.8% of all disability-adjusted life years are attributed to alcohol. Significant health gains could be achieved by implementing and strengthening cost-effective alcohol policies to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm.

Czechs and tobacco consumption

In Czechia, 25% of people aged 15 and over smoke – 18% smoke daily and another 7% smoke occasionally. There are more than 2 million daily smokers in the entire population, and around 16 000 people – 1 in 6 – die from it every year. Trends in the last 6 years indicate a gradual decrease in smoking incidence in the adult population, among both men and women.

Implementing WHO recommendations in Czechia

Alcoholic beverages and tobacco products are inexpensive and readily available in Czechia. There are numerous opportunities to introduce measures to reduce the availability of alcohol – in particular to youth – as well as to use price regulation and taxation mechanisms to reduce consumption.

Yet policy-makers and the general public are cautious regarding alcohol and tobacco control. “Significantly limited availability of alcohol and tobacco can have an impact on the development of a parallel illegal market, which we want to avoid,” said Jarmila Vedralová. “Unrestricted availability, on the contrary, leads to high tolerance and negative health, social and economic impacts. A balanced approach is needed.”

The main goal of a newly drafted national strategy for 2019-2027 is to reduce the harm caused by addictive substances such as alcohol and tobacco, including harm to health, society and public budgets.

Czechia is an important beer and wine producer and the impact of more restrictive policies is of concern for the agricultural sector. Macroeconomic policies are very careful about measures that may increase taxation. The policy dialogue in this area will require building further consensus, and would benefit from solid evidence and modelling of the economic and health impacts of possible interventions.