Joint WHO-EU project reveals difficult truths about alcohol consumption in Europe
The “Monitoring of national policies related to alcohol consumption and harm reduction” project (MOPAC) held its final meeting in Edinburgh on 19 November, where it presented its findings, which indicate that the harm caused by alcohol is still significant, and that reducing it will require increased efforts.
Progress in policy development but still high levels of harm
The findings were based on the latest MOPAC data on alcohol consumption, alcohol-attributable harm and policy in the 28 European Union (EU) Member States, Norway and Switzerland. The progress in reducing alcohol-attributable mortality witnessed in these countries in 2010 is most likely an effect of increased overall life expectancy rather than decreased levels of consumption. As such, the current approach cannot be relied on in the future.
In 2016, 300 000 people died from alcohol-attributable causes in these countries; in the wider WHO European Region of 53 Member States the number of deaths was close to 1 million. Assessments of the implementation of alcohol policies in the 28 EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland showed that they can be improved in a number of areas. It was concluded that to further prevent alcohol-related harm, it is key to continue work on strengthening alcohol policy.
A fact sheet summarizing the findings was presented to participants and the media and is currently available. The full data will be published in a forthcoming WHO report.
Policy response: how to make Europe SAFER
A new initiative in the area of alcohol policy, SAFER, was presented during the meeting. SAFER is a tool for supporting alcohol policy at the national and local level. SAFER focuses on the 5 key areas of the “Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol”:
- restricting availability
- enhancing drink driving counter measures
- screening and brief interventions
- comprehensive marketing and advertising policies
- increasing prices on alcoholic beverages.
The initiative was launched at the third United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs side-event on alcohol in New York in September 2018, and was presented during the meeting by Dag Rekve, technical officer at the Management of Substance Abuse unit at WHO.
Going in the right direction
In a presentation of the evaluation of the Action Plan on Youth Drinking and on Heavy Episodic Drinking endorsed by the Committee on National Alcohol Policy and Action (CNAPA), Professor Kim Bloomfield from Aalborg University concluded that the implementation of alcohol policy in the EU in general is going in a positive direction.
Examples to follow: awards to Scotland and Estonia for accomplishments in alcohol policy
The meeting also highlighted many good practices from Member States of alcohol policy implementation over the last few years. One example is Scotland’s work in implementing minimum unit pricing (MUP), which came into force in May 2018. The United Nations Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (UNIATF), represented at this event by WHO headquarters and by WHO/Europe, took this opportunity to deliver to Scotland the newly established award for “outstanding contribution to reducing NCDs”. Daniel Kleinberg from the Scottish Government accepted the prize on behalf of Scotland.
Another Member State commended for good practice in alcohol policy, was Estonia, where new regulations regarding availability, price and marketing of alcohol have been introduced recently. The policy developments in Estonia have been published in the September issue of Public Health Panorama. In Edinburgh, the day after the MOPAC meeting, Estonia was presented the “European Award for Reducing Alcohol Harm” during the 8th European Alcohol Policy Conference.