Alcohol could cause new EU health chief headache

The spirits boss said the forum led to the funding of a number of initiatives that tackled harmful drinking and focused on prevention programs. [EPA/PATRICK SEEGER]

The European spirits industry has called on Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner-designate for health, to revive the European Alcohol and Health Forum, which has been inactive since 2015 after twenty public health NGOs decided to pull out.

“Relaunching the European Alcohol and Health Forum is the best way to achieve the cooperation required, and ahead of her hearing in the European Parliament, we call on Commissioner-designate Kyriakides to do so,” Ulrich Adam, director general at spirits lobby spiritsEUROPE, told

Adam said there had been “substantial declines” in youth drinking, binge drinking and drink driving across the EU in recent years, but there is much work left to do.

“If we want these trends to continue then we need to make sure there is a truly cross-sectoral collaboration,” he said.

Kyriakides is to face MEPs today in a three-hour hearing in front of the environment, public health and food safety committee, at 18.00.

The spirits boss said the forum led to the funding of a number of initiatives that have tackled harmful drinking and focused on prevention programs.

“The next Commission can send the right message by re-establishing the Forum and building on recent successes to continue reducing the harmful consumption of alcohol across the EU.”

The EU Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF) is a Commission-led stakeholder platform with the aim of coordinating best practices and policies to tackle alcohol-related harm. However, in June 2015, twenty public health NGOs pulled out.

Stakeholders take careful steps to revive EU Alcohol and Health Forum

The European Commission is trying to foster dialogue among stakeholders and find the best way to take the EU Alcohol and Health Forum a step forward.

The NGOs, most of which receive EU funding, decided to abstain from the platform in protest against the European Commission’s refusal to submit a new alcohol strategy, which formally expired in 2012.

The alcohol industry makes it clear that the Forum is related to prevention actions and not policy; on the other hand, the NGOs insist that the industry should be prevented from influencing health-related messages.

During his term as Health Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis tried to bring the two sides together but has failed to bridge their differences.

A new survey published on 30 September by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking found a drop in binge drinking by more than 25% in Europe between 2005 and 2016.

“Another report from the same organisation in recent weeks shows that underage drinking has also declined dramatically across Europe. Underage drinking and binge drinking are some of the best measures of alcohol-related harm, and so it is greatly encouraging to see both figures in steady decline,” Adam concluded.

The cancer plan and alcohol

In the meantime, Eurocare, an NGO advocating for the prevention and reduction of alcohol-related harm, issued a statement urging the new Commissioner to re-identify the “forgotten link” between alcohol and cancer.

Referring to “Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan”, which is part of Kyriakides’s mission for the next 5 years, Eurocare said in 2016, the main cause of the death due to alcohol in Europe was cancer (29%).

“With the specific action plan on cancer prevention it is hoped the new European Commission will address the missing link between alcohol and cancer, as well as introduce effective alcohol policy tools to fulfill its EU’s obligation towards SDG target 3.5,” Eurocare said.

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