Alcohol industry must do more to fight abuse: EU

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s health chief urged the alcoholic drinks industry on Thursday to step up its fight against the growing problem of alcohol abuse.

The EU is the heaviest drinking region in the world, with 55 million adults estimated to drink at harmful levels. Alcohol contributes to the deaths of 195,000 people in the 27-nation bloc every year, according to EU figures.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou made the call at the launch of a new Alcohol and Health Forum, part of a strategy paper on alcohol abuse published at the end of the last year.

“My expectations for this forum are high ... In particular I expect the alcoholic beverages industry to market their products responsibly,” Kyprianou said in a statement.

“The media, advertisers, retailers as well as owners of pubs and bars should also contribute to changing attitudes and behaviors, especially among young people.”

The forum is similar to the self-regulation approach Brussels took last year with the food industry to combat obesity, rather than proposing tough laws like those which exist to combat smoking.

Kyprianou was criticized by some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) last year for not pushing ahead with measures such as a ban on sponsorship and advertising, warning labels and an EU-wide minimum drinking age.

The new forum comprises more than 40 business and non-governmental organizations and is due to agree on its first targets by November. The Commission will review progress at the end of each year.

The European Spirits Organization, representing companies such Pernod Ricard, described the forum as “an important step forward”.