NGOs resign from Health Forum

Public Health NGOs have today resigned from the EU Alcohol and Health Forum, following an announcement by the EU Health Commissioner that he has no plans to establish a new EU Alcohol Strategy. This decision goes against demands from Member States, including the UK, and the European Parliament for a new comprehensive Strategy to tackle alcohol harm in Europe.

Membership of the Forum, which is chaired by DG Sante, includes drinks industry representatives and public health NGOs. More than 20 health bodies, including the Royal college of Physicians, Institute of Alcohol Studies and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, today tendered their collective resignation in an open letter to Commissioner Andriukaitis.

Signatories to the letter outline their “deep concerns” about the neglect of public health and the prioritisation of alcohol industry interests. These include:

  • The Commission is ignoring calls from the European Parliament and Member States to develop a new EU Alcohol Strategy
  • The Commission plans to include alcohol within a wider framework for tackling chronic disease, which would fail to address many harms caused by alcohol to those other than the drinker, such as drink driving, domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation
  • There is no evidence to show that the EU Alcohol and Health Forum has had any impact on public health
  • The Forum was established to support the implementation of the previous EU Alcohol Strategy, which ended in 2012. With no new Strategy planned, membership of the Forum cannot be justified.

Signatories also expressed disappointment that the Commissioner had rejected requests for public health experts to have a formal structure to meet with Commission officials to discuss alcohol policy, free from vested interest groups.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the EU Alcohol and Health Forum’s Science Group said,

“This is a sad day for those who care about health in Europe. The Commission’s prioritisation of alcohol industry interests over public health has been laid bare. Many NGOs have participated actively and in good faith in the EU Alcohol and Health Forum, in the hope of making progress and reducing alcohol harm. However, with no evidence to indicate the Forum has achieved any meaningful results, and no promise of a new Alcohol Strategy, we see no alternative to walking away from this failing organization.”

Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said:

“Alcohol is the leading risk factor for ill-health and premature death amongst the core working age population in Europe, so we can’t afford not to act. Member States, including the UK, have repeatedly called on the Commission to develop an Alcohol Strategy, and their calls
have been repeatedly ignored. To disregard the requests of democratically elected representatives for a strategy to improve the lives of Europeans is inexcusable.”

Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems said:

“We have been very active members of the EU Alcohol and Health Forum. However, there is no evidence to show the Forum has had any impact to date on public health, and with no new Alcohol Strategy planned, the Forum is meaningless. The European Commission needs to respond to demands of member states, the European Parliament and NGOs, rather than prioritising the needs of Big Business. Otherwise there is a real risk that the health gains we have been making in Scotland over the past few years in relation to reducing alcohol harms will be reversed.”

A short briefing on the EU Alcohol and Health Forum and why health NGOs have resigned is available to view here:

Notes to Editors

A short briefing on the EU Alcohol and Health Forum and why health NGOs have resigned is attached to this press release.

Facts and figures about alcohol in Europe

  • Alcohol is the leading risk for ill-health and premature death for the core of the working age population (25-59 year)
  • Alcohol is a toxic substance in terms of its direct and indirect effects on a wide range of body organs and a cause of some 60 diseases. Taking all diseases and injuries at global level into account, the negative health impact of alcohol consumption is 31.6 times higher than benefit 
  • 12 million people in the EU are dependent on alcohol
  • Around 9 million children in the EU are living with one parent addicted to alcohol
  • 1 of 4 road fatalities in EU are due to alcohol; in 2010 nearly 31,000 Europeans were killed on the roads of which 25% were related to alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to birth defects and developmental disorders. It may cause the unborn child physical, behavioural and learning disabilities
  • The social cost attributable to alcohol is 155,8 billion Euro yearly (was third is now first bullet point)
  • Alcohol is responsible 1 in 7 male deaths and 1 in 13 female deaths in the group aged 15–64 years, resulting in approximately 120 000 premature deaths

Habib Kadiri
Institute of Alcohol Studies
0207 222 4001