EU rejects laws for responsible drinking drive

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholic drinks, Alcoholism, Alcohol

Alcohol is the third biggest killer in Europe, the European
Commission has said, urging the drinks industry and governments to
do more but backing away from laws to make them.

There were no mandatory warning labels and no legislation proposed, but the Commission made it clear that both the drinks industry and member state governments should do more to push responsible drinking.

The publication of its long-awaited Alcohol Strategy will pile more pressure on drinks firms, but was not as heavy-handed as some had feared.

Alcohol is the third biggest cause of premature death and illness in the EU, responsible for 195,000 deaths every year, the Commission revealed Tuesday.

It bombarded both the industry and consumers with gloomy figures, such as 55m EU adults drink at harmful levels and that alcohol is linked to a quarter of deaths among young men and one in 10 among young women.

Such excessive drinking, and a growing binge-drinking culture, cost the EU economy €125bn in 2003. Costs are now €200bn, according to the World Health Organisation.

To help reduce these figures, the Commission will set up an Alcohol and Health Forum in June 2007, to support and monitor efforts to curb drinking across the 25 member states.

It will also use the existing Public Health Programme to encourage discussion and co-operation between member states and the industry. A similar model is already in place to help reduce rising obesity rates across the EU.

Most responsibility will be shouldered by member state governments and drinks firms themselves.

Many in the industry broadly welcomed the Commission Strategy. "We are particularly pleased to see that the Communication has no specific plans related to alcohol taxation or product labelling and recognises the importance of joint industry-government work at a national level,"​ said Jeremy Beadles, head of the UK Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

Some in the industry had feared possible EU-wide laws to raise prices and print health warnings on drinks.

It is possible these policies may still emerge in some countries, however. Several member states were planning to introduce warning labels on alcoholic drinks, the Commission said.

France has already approved warning labels aimed at pregnant women, following evidence that 700 French children were born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome in 2001.

Health authorities in the UK, where binge-drinking rates are among the highest in Europe, have also spent 2006 considering cigarette packet-style health warnings on alcoholic drinks.

The British Beer and Pub Association said it welcomed a standard message on all alcoholic drinks that would help people to monitor their drinking habits, but rejected scare tactics.

The UK government last week launched a £4m alcohol awareness campaign, 'Know Your Limits', intended to encourage 16-24-year-olds to drink responsibly. It is also understood to be considering limits on price promotions for alcohol in shops.

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