Global Strategy to Deal With Alcohol's Dark Side
Humanity's relationship with alcohol has never been easy. Now it's about to undergo as great a change as our attitude toward tobacco, which has led to a huge decrease in smoking from the height of cool to the lowest of unpleasant habits.
That at least is the hope of the
Unveiled in October in
"It is a landmark document," says
Member states will be invited to ratify the finalized version of the document at the meeting of the
"It will provide knowledge and awareness about the size of the problem, and advice about the most cost-effective policies," says Anderson.
The impetus for action is founded on the growing realization that alcohol doesn't just harm those who drink, combined with a better knowledge of intervention strategies. For example, in March, the UK government's chief medical officer,
To illustrate the extent of the problem in the
"It challenges the neo-liberal ideology which promotes the drinker's freedom to choose his or her own behavior," she says.
Persuading governments and citizens of the problem is just the first step, though. What, if anything, can be done to stop people drinking to excess?
To some extent, strategies will depend on location. In rich countries, for example, the focus is likely to be on stopping young people from binge drinking, whereas introducing drink-driving laws may be a priority in rapidly developing countries, where newly acquired wealth is increasing ownership of cars and access to alcohol.
Generally, however, the WHO says the most effective measures are to raise prices through heavy taxation based on alcohol content, and to reduce the availability of alcohol through strict licensing schemes limiting opening times and the number of outlets.
Such strategies may smack of overactive government, but recent findings suggest these measures work.
From another study, in which Wagenaar's team surveyed 800 students leaving a campus bar over four nights, and took breath alcohol readings, the researchers calculated that each
Meanwhile, at the behest of the Scottish government,
She estimates that setting the minimum price at
As for light drinkers who complain they would be unfairly set back by price increases, Meier claims that a
Of course, taxing booze and restricting its availability are not new ideas and such strategies are already deployed to some extent in most developed countries. But the WHO document argues that many countries don't implement them effectively.
Predictably, the alcohol industry is not happy with the WHO's focus on reducing consumption through pricing, availability and marketing. It also argues that government intervention isn't the only way to solve the problem.
"Other parties, including industry, can play a role," says
He cites a collaboration in
Others are skeptical of the industry's contribution to the debate.
Anderson warns against this: "Price and availability are still the most effective strategies to reduce consumption, but the other thing is marketing, creating a social climate around drinking through sports sponsorship and movies. That has a powerful impact."
Anderson is still optimistic, though. "I don't think alcohol will ever become as socially unacceptable as tobacco use, but societies may adopt a more cautious approach to its supply and marketing, resulting in less harm."
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(c) 2009 New Scientist Magazine