23rd Oct 2016

Brussels says Europeans back anti-alcohol moves

Slightly more Europeans drink alcohol but in less amounts compared to 2003, according to a fresh survey by Eurobarometer, published on Wednesday (14 March).

Europe records the highest alcohol consumption in the world, with three quarters of respondents claiming to have drunk alcohol over the previous year while most Luxemburgers, Italians, Danes and Spaniards drank in the month prior to the survey.

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Unlike three years ago, more people tend to have one to two, rather than more drinks in one sitting but the so-called binge drinking, defined in this case as five or more drinks - is practised by every fifth European youngster.

In terms of national differences, binge drinking is most common in Ireland (34%), Finland (24%), the UK (24%) and Denmark (23%), and least so in Italy (2%), Greece (2%) and Portugal (4%).

The survey also shows that most citizens (77%) agree with warnings on bottles for pregnant women and drivers, while 76 percent would like to see alcohol ads targeting young people banned.

Moreover, 73 percent of respondents approve of the introduction of a lower alcohol threshold for young and novice drivers and 80 percent think random alcohol testing would help in reducing cases of driving under the influence.

The European Commission is interpreting these findings as a sign of support for possible protective steps.

"It is evident from this survey that EU citizens support measures crafted to protect specific groups in society, such as pregnant women, drivers and young people from the harmful effects of alcohol abuse and misuse," said EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

However, when asked directly who should be responsible for protecting people from alcohol-related harm, respondents who think it should be individual citizens themselves (52%) outnumber those who argue it should be up to public authorities (44%).

Slovaks (75%), Czechs (70%) and Croats (70%) are the strongest supporters of the "individual responsibility" attitude, while Hungarians, Italians and Spaniards favour a more interventionist approach of the state for taking care of citizens' health.

Brussels forced to take it slowly on alcohol

The survey showing Europeans' attitudes on alcohol comes just months after the EU executive adopted its strategy on how to tackle alcohol-related harm which kills around 195,000 people a year in the EU.

Originally, it had planned to suggest more radical steps as found in some EU countries - such as a special tax or compulsory labelling for alcohol products popular among youngsters - as in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg.

Other examples that Brussels highlighted and considered were special labels to protect pregnant women, imposing a minimum age of 18-years for being served alcohol, or possibly even a common limit for permitted levels of alcohol in the blood stream of drivers and stringent punishment for drivers under the influence.

However, following a loud outcry by the alcohol industry, the draft document was watered down with the commission leaving it up to national governments to decide which good examples in the EU to follow, while stating it would consult industry on "responsible" advertising and sale of alcohol.

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