Reduce alcohol availability, raise taxes, WHO tells members

Pouring alcohol into a glass
Pouring alcohol into a glass

World Health Organisation unveils SAFER a five pronged strategy to crack down against alcohol consumption

World Health Organisation has called upon countries to strengthen restrictions on alcohol availability and advance and enforce drink driving countermeasures. This is a part of SAFER, a new initiative and technical package outlining five high-impact strategies  to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.

Alcohol consumption contributes to more than 3 million deaths globally every year and over 5% of the global burden of disease and injury, according to the recently issued WHO Global Status Report (GSR) on Alcohol and Health 2018. It is also a major risk factor for NCDs, including cancers and cardiovascular diseases, communicable diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS, violence, and injuries. Globally, alcohol consumption is the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disability.

The five strategies of SAFER are:

  • Strengthen restrictions on alcohol availability.
  • Advance and enforce drink driving countermeasures.
  • Facilitate access to screening, brief interventions, and treatment.
  • Enforce bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion.
  • Raise prices on alcohol through excise taxes and pricing policies.

“The harmful use of alcohol is a major – yet often unaddressed – public health threat. SAFER provides clear guidance to governments on how to save lives on a large scale”

“We are proud to introduce SAFER – a package of proven interventions to reduce the harms caused by alcohol, and a new partnership to catalyze global action,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “We need governments to put in place effective alcohol control policy options and public policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.”

According to the GSR, an estimated 2.3 billion people are current alcohol drinkers, but consumption varies across regions. More than a quarter (27%) of all 15 to 19-year-olds are current drinkers, with rates of current drinking highest among this age group in Europe (44%), followed by the Americas and the Western Pacific (both 38%).

Alcohol is consumed by more than half of the population in three WHO regions – the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific. Current trends and projections point to an expected increase in global alcohol per capita consumption in the next 10 years, particularly in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions and the Region of the Americas.

Almost all (95%) countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half use other price strategies such as banning below-cost selling or volume discounts. The majority of countries have some type of restriction on beer advertising, with total bans most common for television and radio but less common for the internet and social media.

Some countries have implemented and enforced policies to reduce alcohol use already.
Dr Adam Karpati, Senior Vice President of Public Health Programs at Vital Strategies, a global public health organization, said: “The harmful use of alcohol is a major – yet often unaddressed – public health threat. SAFER provides clear guidance to governments on how to save lives on a large scale. The greatest impact will be achieved by implementing all the SAFER interventions in full.”

The WHO Global Monitoring Framework for NCDs includes a target to reduce harmful use of alcohol by at least 10% by 2025. WHO’s five-year strategic plan, the 13th General Programme of Work 2019-2023 (GPW13), notes that action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol is a global priority.