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Simple changes to alcohol policy at EU level have potential to reduce mortality across Europe

Published: 15 March 2016
alcohol policy changes
Simple changes to alcohol policy at EU level needed

New analysis by Professor Nick Sheron at the University of Southampton demonstrates that simple and cheap changes to alcohol policy at European Union level would, if implemented, dramatically reduce liver mortality across Europe.

In the World Health Organisation European Region, more than 2,370,000 years of life are lost from liver disease before the age of 50. Between 60–80% of these deaths are alcohol-related.

Yet the analysis published today in the Journal of Hepatology explains that we already know exactly what to do to tackle this problem. The most effective and cost-effective measures have been summarised by the OECD and World Health Organisation, with the most effective and cost effective policy being the increased alcohol taxation and the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol. These measures would reduce overall consumption of alcohol in the population, thereby reducing the number of cases of liver mortality.

Professor Sheron, Head of Clinical Hepatology at the University of Southampton, and the Royal College of Physicians’ Representative for European Union Alcohol Policies, said: “The link between alcohol consumption and liver mortality is clear cut, as is the evidence linking effective alcohol policy to liver mortality. Were the liver mortality in the worst member states to be brought down to the EU average 14,000 deaths could be prevented each year. Were liver mortality rates in the EU to be brought in line with the EU minimum then around 46,000 liver deaths would be prevented each year. The case for action on alcohol related harm could not possibly be clearer. The most effective and cost effective interventions actually raise money for hard pressed governments and are more likely to increase rather than decrease productivity.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “This analysis is further evidence of the need for the European Union, and governments across Europe, to introduce measures which reduce alcohol consumption and the number of deaths from liver disease. The problem is the drinks industry – despite the evidence for the effectiveness of these policies, the drinks industry has thus far been able to lobby effectively to protect their market access and profits. If we are reduce the cases of liver mortality in Europe, the health and social needs of Europe’s populations need to be put ahead of the interests of the drinks industry.”

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