Alcohol, smoking and other drug use among young people in all member states of the European Union continues to be a major public health concern. In the past, there have been great efforts in the areas of smoking prevention and drug use, but alcohol use is also worthy of scrutiny.
According to the WHO European status report on alcohol and health 2010, the disease burden attributable to the harmful use of alcohol is significant. In many countries, public health problems caused by it represent a substantial health, social and economic burden. Reduction of harmful use of alcohol is becoming a priority area at a global, national and regional level.
Alcohol related harm can be reduced through the implementation of proven alcohol strategies, especially among those under the age of 18 or younger. Aside from being illegal, underage drinking is a widespread public health problem that poses many risks. Underage drinkers consume more drinks per occasion than adult drinkers. Alcohol is one of the most commonly used and abused drugs, more so than tobacco and illicit drugs.
"Reduction of harmful use of alcohol is becoming a priority area at a global, national and regional level"
The abuse of alcohol is not only a youth phenomenon but also affects the adult population. Over 23 million EU citizens are dependent on alcohol. Alcohol is a contributory factor in nearly one in 10 illness related or premature deaths in the EU each year. It is the right time to end roundtable discussions and act. In a similar way to the anti-tobacco strategy, we must initiate warning and education campaigns. We have to reverse the alarming increase in the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed in EU member states. Labels with warning messages on every bottle containing alcohol could be the first step on this long journey.
Prevention must a long term goal. We have to enforce and facilitate education on the negative impact of alcohol on health and the quality of life from pre-school onwards. A long term plan would create a realisation among the next generation of teenagers and have a lateral effect on their parents and grandparents. Big issues also need to be addressed in areas such as the strict control of selling alcohol and licencing of liquor stores.
My future actions and proposals in the environment, public health and food safety committee will be focused on strengthening the alcohol strategy in its entirety and implementing the steps mentioned. Hopefully together we can successfully overcome this huge issue.