'Direct and indirect alcohol-related social costs in Europe amount to over €160bn' and we must act now, urges Piernicola Pedicini
In Europe, the harmful consumption of alcohol is the second largest lifestyle-related cause of illness, and it is a risk factor in over 60 chronic diseases, including alcohol-related liver disease and chronic pancreatitis, diseases of the digestive system, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and neuropsychiatric diseases. On top of all these ailments, alcohol has many other harmful effects. One in four road traffic accidents in the EU is alcohol-related and account for more than 10,000 road deaths per year - young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are particularly at risk. Overall, direct and indirect alcohol-related social costs in Europe amount to over €160bn. The commission has analysed the resulting impact on the economy and citizens’ health, and has identified five priority issues that need addressing.
First, the commission aims to focus on the protection of young people, children and unborn babies. The goal here is to curb alcohol consumption in minors and young people - especially if it is harmful or dangerous.
In addition, the commission is looking to reduce the harm that children in alcohol-dependent families are exposed to, as well as the exposure of pregnant women to alcohol and, consequently, the number of newborns exposed to foetal alcohol syndrome.
In terms of the health and safety of all citizens, the commission has chosen to focus some of its efforts on reducing the number of deaths and injuries resulting from alcohol-related road traffic accidents. It will also work to prevent alcohol-related harm in adults and to reduce the number of people affected by alcohol-related physical and psychological pathologies. Furthermore, it will work to reduce the burden of alcohol-related deaths.
In an effort to promote responsible drinking, the commission will also focus on providing information and education aimed at raising public awareness of the consequences of the harmful, hazardous effects of alcohol consumption. It will also create an EU-wide base of scientific knowledge, with the aim of providing a database containing information on the effects of public initiatives and repercussions of alcohol consumption on productivity and economic development.
With this in mind, the Five-Star Movement is now calling for a new European action plan to be drafted, focusing first and foremost on preventive health measures, health promotion and health education. The plan also needs to include guidelines as to how to improve access to healthcare and provide ongoing support to those affected and their families as well as those involved in road traffic accidents caused by alcohol abuse.
We intend to focus on raising awareness, education and the implementation of preventive measures - particularly among young people – paving the way for a wide range of community initiatives involving teachers, parents and young people themselves.
More concretely, we will institute educational programmes that start in early childhood and carry on into adolescence.
Such efforts may include promoting sport among teenagers, introducing the requirement to provide information regarding the ingredients and nutritional content of alcoholic beverages, increasing efforts to inform the public - minors in particular - about the effects of alcohol, implementing controls, securing support services to treat alcohol-related disorders and alcohol-related chronic diseases, and developing appropriate strategies for combating the illegal sale of alcohol.