WHO Recommends Raising Price of Alcohol to Curb Binge Drinking

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that binge drinking and alcohol abuse should be tackled through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing regulations.

Reuters reports that the U.N. agency unveiled its draft global strategy to curb risks linked to alcohol, which is estimated to cause 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides, and various cancers—3.8 percent of all mortality.

“Consumers, including heavy drinkers and young people, are sensitive to changes in the price of drinks…Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol,” the WHO said.

But a key factor for success in controlling beer, wine, and spirits consumption is an effective taxation system, said the WHO report, whose campaigning led to a global health treaty controlling tobacco in 2003.

WHO’s executive board will examine the draft strategy at its semi-annual meeting next week. The 34-member state body ordered the study two years ago after Nordic countries voiced concern about hazards of heavy drinking.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (a coalition of medical professionals, researchers, and non-governmental organizations) has called on the board to approve the strategy and send it to WHO’s annual assembly of health ministers in May for adoption.

But the alliance said it was disappointed that the recommended marketing interventions included industry self-regulation which it said has not been effective to date.

The Global Alcohol Producers Group, whose members include the world’s largest alcoholic drinks group, Britain’s Diageo, and the third largest brewer, Heineken of the Netherlands, said the draft was an “important and constructive step forward.” However, it cautioned against “an over-reliance on strict government controls such as over-taxation or advertising bans” which could lead to illicit products or sales emerging.