Irish Times – Health agency warns on alcohol abuse in Europe

The World Health Organisation have announced an initiative to reduce the abuse of alcohol in Europe, which they say is the heaviest drinking region in the world.

Some 20 per cent of adults in Europe were inclined towards heavy episodic drinking, according to the organisation. It also said yesterday that alcohol was the second-largest risk factor for the death and disease burden in the region, after tobacco use.

“The harmful use of alcohol is a priority public health concern. The evidence supporting this action plan is large, diverse and persuasive,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the organisation’s regional director for Europe. “Countries are well aware of the expensive and devastating damage it causes and our action plan is intended to provide them with technical guidance and support . . . to reduce this harm.”

The announcement was made in Baku, Azerbaijan, at a meeting of the 53 countries in the organisation’s European region.

The region’s plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012-2020 gives an overview of the problem and provides policy options which the organisation says are proven to reduce alcohol-related harm.

These policies include regulating pricing, targeting drink-driving and restricting marketing.

Consumption reportedly fell in the 1990s, then increased and stabilised at a higher level between 2004 and 2006. Consumption varies greatly among countries, with a European average of 9.24 litres of pure alcohol equivalent consumed per person per year. In the organisation’s European Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2010 , Ireland’s average consumption was 14.4 litres.

The overall trend, according to the organisation’s data, is that consumption has declined in western Europe and increased in eastern Europe during the last 15 years.

The organisation said the health sector would have a central role in recognising and responding to alcohol problems, but that the issue had advanced beyond that of health. It said there was convincing evidence on the efficacy of alcohol taxes, restrictions on outlet density and on days and hours of sale as well as lower legal blood alcohol levels for driving, random breath-testing, brief counselling programmes and treatment for alcohol-use disorders.

Europe’s role as a world leader in confronting problems linked to alcohol abuse was praised, but the organisation said that more work was needed. “Today, every European country has some form of alcohol action plan or strategy. Nevertheless, no matter how comprehensive or strict its alcohol action plan, every country will benefit from reviewing, adjusting and strengthening it, using the European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012-2020.”

Source: The Irish Times – 14/09/11
Journalist: Cían Nihill