Italy’s Alcohol Prevention Day putting the prevention of alcohol-related harm in focus

WHO

Since the 1990s, the Mediterranean countries have been successfully reducing alcohol consumption and related harm. This success has been particularly prominent in Italy, where total adult per capita consumption decreased from 12.4 litres in 1990 to 7.6 litres in 2014. This decrease was significantly sharper than the WHO European Region average for the same period. The reductions in alcohol consumption in the last 2 decades are part of a broader downward trend that began in the 1970s.

Reductions in consumption have been evident in related reductions in the burden of harm, as defined by the 4 main alcohol-related disease categories: liver cirrhosis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and injury. Between 1990 and 2014, premature mortality caused by alcohol-related liver cirrhosis halved; alcohol-related cancer decreased sharply (while the regional average remained stable); and the rate of alcohol-related unintentional injury halved. CVDs registered only a small change – this category is closely related to patterns of binge-drinking, which is not the dominating drinking style in Italy.

Reductions in consumption despite deep roots in culture

Alcohol has historically been, and still is, an important part of Italian culture and the national economy, with wine being the dominant beverage for production, export, and consumption. The consumption pattern has traditionally focused on drinking with meals, and drinking most commonly takes place at home. The fall in consumption over time has been associated with wider changes in Italian society, and is closely linked to the implementation of evidence-based alcohol policies.

One of Italy’s key achievements was the introduction of a written alcohol policy in 2000, which subsequently led to the introduction of the first national alcohol and health plan in 2007. The Italian policy framework includes policy measures outlined in the WHO Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol and the European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020. Policy measures include, for example, a minimum purchase age of 18 years, a legal blood alcohol concentration for drink–driving of 0.05% for the general population and 0.00% for young and professional drivers, and legally binding regulations on alcohol sponsorships and sales promotion.

At the local level, many municipal regulations are in place, allowed by the national devolution of safety control and public order to the mayors of Italian towns. These regulations include restrictions on vending hours, particularly in the so-called movida areas to prevent drinking in public spaces. Vending regulations within these municipalities prohibit the serving and selling of alcoholic beverages between 21:00 and 02:00.

The protection of children and young people is key to preventing alcohol-related harm. This makes alcohol marketing an increasingly important area of focus. Current investments in alcohol marketing are estimated at €300 billion per year, and new types of media may increase levels of exposure, particularly among young people.

Alcohol Prevention Day

Italy has marked Alcohol Prevention Day (APD) every April since 2001. April is Alcohol Awareness Month in the country, which also emphasizes the prevention of alcohol-related harm. Alcohol Prevention Day is supported by the Ministry of Health, and focuses on prevention, policy, and treatment. It brings together national, regional and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, media, civil society, researchers and funders. While the event aims to increase awareness of the risks associated with alcohol use and abuse, it also seeks to involve young people and promote healthier lifestyles.

This year the APD was organized for the sixteenth time, and a one-day event took place at the National Institute of Health in Rome on 12 April. Alongside international and national experts, Dr Lars Møller, Programme Manager of Alcohol and Illicit Drugs at WHO/Europe, presented the Regional Office's strategies for reducing the harmful use of alcohol as well as new developments in the field of alcohol prevention.