The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a draft proposal for a set Framework and set of policies to address its engagement with Non Sate Actors. Member states are being invited to discuss these proposals at WHO’s HQ in Geneva on 27th and 28th March. Public interest NGOs are not invited.
WHO should have health as priority for all its actions. European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) supports International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and fears that the new framework would compromise WHO’s integrity, independence and its ability to fulfil its mandate. If the new proposals were to be adopted, the corporate influence would increase, despite the many statements of WHO’s Director General Margaret Chan that WHO’s policies, norms and standards setting processes should be protected from commercial influence. Last year Dr Margaret Chan underlined that “the alcohol industry has no role in the formulation of alcohol policies, which must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests”.
In particular, the proposals introduce a new risky element, allowing official relations status, with all its related privileges, for international business associations. Up to now, if businesses wanted to attend governing body meetings in order to lobby member states delegations, they could wear a public badge, or, if they wanted to speak, inveigle their way onto government delegations. Some, over the years have slipped through WHO’s admission procedures, pretending to be NGOs.
The new proposals open the door wide to participation by any business member of these Associations, except tobacco or arms companies. This would, in effect, legitimize businesses lobbying role at WHO’s global policy-setting meetings - the very thing that WHO alleges that it is trying to avoid. In addition to turning WHO governing bodies meetings into multi-stakeholder public-private gatherings, the proposals would also allow businesses greater engagement at programme level, through agreed 3-year plans with WHO.
Eurocare Secretary General Mariann Skar said: “We urge WHO not to adopt the policy proposals, since it is crucial that the industry is not regarded as a 'partner in improving health'. WHO have to support member states in promoting better regulation and 'best buy' policies; like regulating advertising, increasing the price of unhealthy products and limiting their availability.”
Trends in alcohol consumption in Europe continue their positive course
Over recent months, we have seen very welcome findings on drinking behaviours released by leading health authorities across Europe, particularly with regards to the decline in underage drinking. This contrasts sharply with misleading coverage which often suggests that overall consumption is dangerously on the increase, in particular since the pandemic started, writes spiritsEurope Director General Ulrich Adam.
The World Health Organization’s 2019 status report showed that average alcohol consumption in Europe fell between 2010 and 2016, and that there were particular decreases in average consumption and drinking rates among young people, as well as an 11% decrease in the prevalence of ‘heavy episodic drinking.’
This was not the only sign that positive changes are taking place across Europe: the latest ESPAD (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) report shows steady decreases in lifetime alcohol consumption among young people between 1995 and 2019 in the EU.
Compared to 2003, overall alcohol consumption fell by 22% and declined in nearly all Member States. Heavy episodic drinking fell by 19%, and 86% of the respondents reported never being drunk in the past month.
We have just published a useful summary of this ESPAD survey highlighting the key findings. But these statistics do not cover the period since the arrival of Covid-19.
So how has the pandemic affected overall consumption trends?
Over the last year, concerns have been raised about how Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns could threaten recent progress.
Thankfully, far from giving rise to more irresponsibility, Covid has not altered the positive long-term trends when it comes to alcohol consumption and misuse. In fact, all the indications are that people have, overall, been drinking much less. Sensationalist reports focused on higher sales in some retail outlets ignored the dramatic declines in sales in bars and restaurants, where most drinking traditionally occurs.
For example, data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis showed significant declines in alcohol consumption during the pandemic in most markets including across Europe.
A growing body of independent evidence also points to a broader decline in all other social settings over the last year.
A YouGov survey in 2020 – involving more than 11,000 people across a number of countries including France, Germany and the UK – found that 84% of drinkers were not consuming more alcohol than they had been before the lockdown, and more than one in three had cut down on their drinking or quit entirely.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, new figures from the Trimbos Institute showed that 49% of people aged 16-35 cut down on their drinking during the first lockdown compared to the same period in 2019, while another 23% consumed the same amount.
Simply put, regardless of those misleading headlines, all of the evidence points to a continuation of the long-term downward trajectory in both alcohol consumption and misuse.
Of course, that does not mean that there is not more work to be done – far from it.
There is no acceptable level of underage drinking, just like there is no acceptable level of the sort of heavy drinking which is detrimental to health. As an industry and as a society, we need to reflect on what we have accomplished, and the work that still lies ahead.
The consistent progress which societies in Europe have made in reducing alcohol-related harm in recent years – and the continuation of this progress during the lockdowns – shows that we are on the right track and that the long-term positive trends are set to continue, as we start to reopen vital sectors of our economies.
One thing which millions of Europeans are looking forward to is the ability to enjoy a drink in bars and restaurants once again, safely, socially, and responsibly.
spiritsEUROPE will continue to work with our partners in the hospitality sector to ensure that that reopening is achieved safely, and so that we can all continue to maintain the positive course towards a more moderate drinking culture across the EU.
Commission publishes public consultation on the taxation of cross-border alcohol and tobacco purchases in the EU
The Commission has launched a public consultation on the taxation of cross-border alcohol and tobacco purchases in the EU. Under current rules, excise duty on alcohol and tobacco bought by a private individual for their own use and transported to another EU country is only paid in the country where the goods were bought. This is the case even if they bring these goods into another member state.
For both alcohol and tobacco products, the misuse of cross-border shopping rules for private individuals is a source of concern for several EU countries due to lost revenues and the negative impact on the effectiveness of national public health policies. The current EU rules of cross-border shopping of alcohol beverages and tobacco products by private individuals are being reviewed to ensure that they remain fit for purpose to balance the objectives of public revenues and health protection.
This is particularly important in the context of the European Action Plan against Cancer since taxation plays a pivotal role in reducing alcohol and tobacco consumption, in particular when it comes to acting as a deterrent to stop young people from smoking and abusing alcohol. The public consultation aims to ensure that all relevant stakeholders have an opportunity to express their views on the current rules and how they might work in the future. It includes questions on the effects of the current system, along with possible changes. The public consultation is available here and remains open until 23 April 2021.
Excise duties: Commission welcomes agreement on rules governing alcohol
The Commission has welcomed the 30 July agreement reached in the Council on the new rules governing excise duties on alcohol within the EU. This agreement paves the way for a better business environment and reduced costs for small alcohol-producing businesses. The agreed new rules will ensure that small and artisan alcohol producers have access to a new EU-wide certification system confirming their access to lower excise duty rates across the Union.
This will have a positive impact on consumers, which will benefit from a crackdown on the illegal use of tax-free denatured alcohol to make counterfeit drinks. There will also be an increase in the threshold for lower strength beer to which reduced rates may apply to encourage brewers to produce beverages with a lower alcohol content.
Following the agreement, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: "Today's agreement is a welcome move towards a more modern and fairer tax regime for alcohol which also supports our fight against fraud.”
New rules will be applicable from 1 January 2022. The Commission will monitor the introduction of an excise duty or reduced excise rates for private production of ethyl alcohol and will report to the Council on this measure.
A full press release is available here.
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