The purpose of the event was to examine how partnerships can enable key stakeholders to address the social and health consequences of excessive drinking among the European Population.

The day’s proceedings were chaired by Dr. Nick Sheron, Head of Clinical Hepatology at the University of Southampton and fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He opened proceedings with a brief overview of the current situation in Europe. Alcohol misuse in Europe causes 200,000 deaths each year. He highlighted the three main ways that alcohol can cause harm: binge drinking, addiction and chronic disease. It was stressed that addiction and chronic disease are not one and the same thing. Chronic disease can result from non-addictive, but heavy social drinking. The effect of alcohol abuse on the younger generation is tragic, said Sheron. 25% of deaths for those aged 15-29 are related to alcohol abuse, this can be a result of road traffic accidents;homicide; domestic and sexual violence; and suicide.

Sarah Lambert, Acting Head of the European Commission Representation in the UK, gave a keynote address outlining the European Union’s alcohol initiatives. The EU Alcohol Strategy aims to reduce the health hazards relating to alcohol. She once again stressed that Europe is the region that consumes the most alcohol in the world. The levels of alcohol drunk by the population have huge implications not only as a key determinant of health, but for crime and policing. According to Lambert, there is significant public support for initiatives that address the issue; 44% of EU citizens believe that public authorities need to intervene on the issue, whilst 77% believe there should be warnings on labels and advertisements.

EU policy on alcohol is multi-pronged, targeting not only cultural factors that lead to increased levels of drinking, but also the legislative aspect. The legislative question was a point that the participants picked up on in particular when asking questions. Many wanted to know examples of how work at a European level, in the Alcohol and Health Forum for example, had led to a change in legislation at a member state level. One participant asked why there had not been moves to introduce a law on minimum pricing, for example. Ms. Lambert stressed that in terms of introducing regulations for public health reasons, the EU is limited by the soft law on health. But she did point out the work that is done to pool best practice on issues such as advertising, licensing and availability. Indeed one of the main roles of the EU in this respect is to act as a facilitator for a broader discussion.

Speakers on the panel included Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare; Jo Jewell, EPHA; Janet Witheridge, Deputy Director of British Beer and Pub Association; Julie Teng, European Youth Forum; and Tony Goodall, Regional Alcohol Manager, Yorkshire and Humber.

The event gave participants and speakers the opportunity to come together and discuss what needs to be done, through partnership, to reduce alcohol related harm. What levels are appropriate for these actions, European, national, regional, local? The majority of participants were representing local bodies, and it was therefore important for them to discuss concrete initiatives that would have an impact on the immediate consequences of excessive drinking. Nevertheless, the exchange of information, detailing the work that goes on at a European level was important in highlighting how a broader approach can help in tackling the issue in the best and most comprehensive way.

For More Information

Contribution to WHO Public Hearing on Ways of Reducing Harmful Use of Alcohol

3rd Plenary Meeting of the European Alcohol Forum - 13 November 2008

Spotlight on European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare)

Policy Exchange

Last modified on December 7 2008.