Battle brewing over alcohol restrictions

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Efforts by Sweden to tackle alcohol abuse in Europe look set to come to the boil during the latter half of its six-month EU presidency. The drinks industry is gearing up for a counter-offensive against an expected push to increase prices and restrict alcohol advertising.

The Swedish Presidency has scheduled a major update of the EU’s alcohol strategy as one of the top priorities in its hectic autumn agenda, aiming to hammer out agreement ahead of a key meeting of European health ministers in Brussels in early December. In an effort to broaden the debate, the Brewers of Europe, which represents beer makers big and small, will publish a report by Ernst and Young on the contribution of the industry to the economy. 

Europe’s beer industry claims to provide 2.5 million jobs and €57 billion worth of revenue for governments. 

The brewers have also been circulating a pamphlet on the effects of beer consumption, highlighting research which shows the health benefits of moderate drinking. 

However, Sweden is particularly concerned about the health and social impact of alcohol on younger people and unborn children, as well as the link between drinking and road traffic accidents. 

The Swedes are believed to pushing for advertising limitations, saying young consumers need to be “better protected against increasing exposure to advertising and different forms of marketing”. 

The industry prefers self-regulation and the enforcement of existing rules and is expected to resist major curbs on marketing practices. 

Taxation is also on the agenda, with Sweden linking cost increases to a reduction in heavy drinking. “The significance of purchasing power and price for patterns of consumption and harm in the EU will be highlighted,” the presidency says. 

However, the brewing industry is pointing to the experience of Finland, where higher consumption resulted from higher prices. Consumers tended to purchase cheap alcohol in supermarkets instead of drinking in pubs and cafés. 

A number of meetings will be held in September as the debate intensifies, including a major meeting of experts on alcohol and health in Stockholm. 

Background

Health experts have called for restrictions on alcohol advertising, citing evidence from 13 studies showing that marketing affects levels of heavy drinking (EURACTIV 2/4/09). The European Union has expressed concern over the health and social impact of alcohol abuse. 

Sweden, which currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, has had a strong domestic record of agressively tackling alcohol abuse. 

The alcohol industry is concerned about the impact of any new measures on the viability of its business at a time of economic uncertainty. 

The brewing industry has produced a booklet highlighting the benefits of moderate drinking, which include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. The beer industry says it provides 2.5 million jobs in its 3,733 breweries. 

Timeline

  • 21-22 Sept.: Expert meeting on alcohol and health in Stockholm.
  • Dec. 2009: Meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels.

Further Reading

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