OECD urges governments to tackle harmful drinking
Governments around the world must act urgently to combat heavy drinking, which costs the global economy billions of dollars, a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found.
Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use: Economics and Public Health Policy says that, while governments have been trying for millennia to control the consumption of alcohol, there are now “new dimensions” to problems related to harmful alcohol use which “continues to be a major public health threat, and one that is growing in size worldwide.”
The cost of crime and traffic accidents related to alcohol use for the European Union was on average €33bn ($36bn) in 2003 and the cost related to traffic accidents caused by alcohol abuse was €10bn ($11bn) in the same year.
Launching the report in Paris earlier this month, OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría said: “The cost to society and the economy of excessive alcohol consumption around the world is massive, especially in OECD countries.”
The report, she said, provides “clear evidence that even expensive alcohol abuse prevention policies are cost-effective in the long run and underlines the need for urgent action by governments.”
Although overall alcohol consumption by adults in OECD countries has fallen slightly over the past two decades, it has particularly risen in Finland, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Poland and Sweden.
Consumption has also risen substantially in the Russian Federation, Brazil, India and China.
The five countries with the highest alcohol consumption among adults are Estonia, Austria France, Ireland and Czech Republic, according to a ranking in the report.
The report says educated women and less educated men are the groups most prone to heavy drinking.
It also says that policies should target heavy drinkers first: through primary care physicians who can identify harmful drinkers and persuade them to start dealing with the issue, it says, and through a tougher enforcement of drinking-and-driving laws to cut traffic casualties.
However, it adds that broader approaches may also sometimes be needed to complement these measures, including by raising taxes, or by imposing minimum prices on cheaper alcohol.
“Greater regulation of alcohol advertising and increasing investment on educating young people on the dangers of harmful alcohol use is also important,” it says, adding that “initiatives promoted by the alcohol industry may also have a role to play but more independent evidence of their impact is needed.”