This summer, during the last week of July, the 3rd Regional European Alcohol Policy Youth Conference (REAPYC) was celebrated. The summit, organized by the Youth Health Organization (YHO) in partnership with the Youth Work Ireland, took place in Tullamore, Ireland, after being postponed both in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of our colleagues here at the Global Health Next Generation Network were invited to share our expertise and work with young professionals in the sector of Global Health. During the REAPYC, young leaders working in the alcohol policy arena came together to create alliances and share knowledge and experiences. This year, at the 3rd edition of the congress, 20 participants from different organizations and European countries attended the event. They were delighted to listen to and discuss with high level panellists representing many of the most relevant actors on alcohol policy: the WHO, the Alcohol Policy Network Europe, Alcohol Action Ireland, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare), and, of course, the YHO.
Why is alcohol a problem?
Some statistics of alcohol consumption are terrifying, such as the fact that, worldwide, more than a quarter (26.5%) of all 15–19-year-olds are current drinkers. What could be considered a public health emergency has been hidden behind an invisibility cloak woven out of ideas such as alcohol being part of our cultural heritage or the perception that our drinking behaviors and practices have always been like this.
Alcohol-related deaths in the European region go up to 2500 per day. Alcohol is the 7th leading risk factor for deaths and DALYs (disability-adjusted life years) in the territory, where it is intertwined with virtually every public health issue, according to the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health published by the WHO in 2018. In the case of infectious diseases, alcohol consumption has been linked to having a high proportion of communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional conditions as well as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and lower respiratory infections. Among non-communicable diseases, alcohol has an impact on digestive diseases and mental and neurological disorders, while also being related to diabetes mellitus, alcohol poisonings, fetal alcohol syndrome, neuropsychiatric disorders, and cardiovascular diseases, among others. Lastly, alcohol-related injuries include road injuries, self-harm, interpersonal violence and falls.
Nobody doubts that alcohol consumption has considerable social costs. As it relates to factors such as level of education, age and gender, it has the potential to enhance social inequalities. However, its economic impact is a matter of discussion between public health professionals and the alcohol industry. The latter main argument against regulation policies is that alcohol-selling gains are crucial for local markets. This is true, at least until you bring health-related economic losses into the picture. In Italy, for example, the economic cost of alcohol use equals 5 to 6% of the country’s GDP. Another example: in the United States in 2019 it cost the government $28 billion in the healthcare sector, $179 billion in workplace productivity, $13 billion in collisions and $25 billion in criminal justice. Furthermore, if we consider the individual level, the consumption of alcohol has been also related to loss of purchasing power. Its use was demonstrated to cause and maintain poverty: besides from money spent on drinks, heavy drinkers may suffer other economic problems such as lower wages and lost employment opportunities, increased medical and legal expenses, and decreased eligibility for loans.
Which policies exist on alcohol harm prevention?
On behalf of Public Health, as well as economic losses, policies to regulate the use of alcohol have been designed. Many of them influence the access and availability of specific alcohol beverages while others have more of a corrective purpose. Some examples are:
- Age limits: policies related to minimum legal drinking age.
- Drink driving: including policies like legal blood alcohol concentration limits when driving and penalties for drunk driving.
- On-site/ off-site premises selling and use in public spaces: selling restrictions on days or schedules, and definition of places where alcohol drinking is allowed.
- Taxes: regulations on taxation for alcoholic beverages, as well as ethanol production, tax incentives for production of low/non-alcoholic products.
- Advertising and product placement restrictions: policies such as advertising restrictions on different media settings or internet.
- Sponsorship: policies based on the restriction of sponsorship to specifically events related to sports or youth.
- Warning and labeling: promotion of health warnings on products and advertising.
Because they are one of the most affected groups, youth play a very important role in the design and application of such policies, despite being usually absent from the policy decision-making tables. This is the reason why we want to deeply thank the Youth Health Organisation for the invitation to the 3rd REAPYC, where we got to interact with awesome organizations such as:
- Associazione Psicologi Europei in Formazione (APE info, Italy)
- Belgian Medical Students’ Association (BeMSA, Belgium)
- Nacionalinė tabako ir alkoholio kontrolės koalicija (NTAKK, Lithuania)
- Associação Académica da Universidade da Beira Interior (AAUBI, Portugal)
- Associació d’estudiants de ciències de la salut (AECS Catalonia, Spain)
- Slovensko združenje za zmanjševanje škodljivih posledic drog (DrogArt, Slovenia)
- Macedonian Medical Students Association (MMSA, Macedonia)
- Association Nationale des Etudiants en Pharmacie de France (ANEPF, France)
The GHNGN, as a group of young professionals, advocates for a reduction in the use of alcohol to avoid preventable damage in health. We will keep working with the objective of raising awareness and collaborating in the debate on the health effects of alcohol use on a global scale.