January 12, 2010 / 6:55 PM / 10 years ago

Price rises are key to tackling alcohol abuse: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - Binge drinking and other growing forms of harmful use of alcohol should be tackled through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing regulations, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended.

A waitress carries beer mugs after the opening ceremony of Munich's 176th Oktoberfest in Munich September 19, 2009. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

The U.N. agency unveiled its draft global strategy to curb risks linked to alcohol which it estimates causes 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides and various cancers — 3.8 percent of all mortality.

“Consumers, including heavy drinkers and young people, are sensitive to changes in the price of drinks... Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol,” the WHO said.

But a key factor for success in controlling beer, wine and spirits consumption is an effective taxation system, said a report by the WHO, whose campaigning led to a global health treaty controlling tobacco in 2003.

WHO’s executive board will examine the draft strategy at its semi-annual meeting next week. The 34-member state body ordered the study two years ago after Nordic countries voiced concern about hazards of heavy drinking.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance — a coalition of medical professionals, researchers and non-governmental organizations — has called on the board to approve the strategy and send it to WHO’s annual assembly of health ministers in May for adoption.

But the alliance said it was disappointed that the recommended marketing interventions included industry self-regulation which it said has not been effective to date.

The Global Alcohol Producers Group, whose members include the world’s largest alcoholic drinks group, Britain’s Diageo, and the third largest brewer, Heineken of the Netherlands, said the draft was an “important and constructive step forward.”

But it cautioned against “an over-reliance on strict government controls such as over-taxation or advertising bans” which could lead to illicit products or sales emerging.

(For full WHO report go to r.reuters.com/fak23h )

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Ralph Boulton

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