Feature Alcohol and Public Health

Europe under the influence

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1166 (Published 10 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1166
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1Colchester, Essex, UK
  1. jgornall{at}mac.com

Carrying on from his investigation into the lobbying activities of the alcohol industry in the UK, Jonathan Gornall finds that the industry is using similar tactics to influence Europe’s alcohol policy

The success of the drinks industry in keeping UK regulation at bay1 is overshadowed by the scale of its impact in Europe, a region in which the overall consumption of alcohol is more than twice the world’s average and where, according to the latest estimate, nearly 138 000 people died prematurely of alcohol attributable causes in 2004 alone.2 Put another way, among those aged 15-64, the deaths of one in seven men and one in 13 women are caused by alcohol.

Despite these shocking statistics, the European Commission has offered no resistance to the alcohol industry. Worse, under the auspices of its 2007 alcohol strategy it has instead collaborated with industry’s preference for self regulation, building it a voluntary platform from which it can shout loudly about corporate responsibility and voluntary commitments, concepts that have proved largely ineffective in preventing the health harms caused by its products.

By no coincidence, in the five years from 2006 to 2010 the areas of alcohol policy that grew stronger in Europe were education and community action—industry favourites. At the same time, controls on pricing and advertising grew weaker,2 which according to an analysis by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was “simply the wrong way round, given the evidence on what might have made a difference to reducing the harm done by alcohol.”3

Now, as the European Commission consults on a short term “action plan” to replace the alcohol strategy, the industry is on the warpath again—and all the signs are that it will, once again, get its way.

A fresh start?

At the end of October 2012, representatives from …

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