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World Health Organisation set to tackle alcohol misuse

Minimum pricing, higher taxes and marketing restrictions are on the agenda as the World Health Organisation (WHO) meets next week to tackle the global issue of alcohol misuse.

The UN agency’s executive board will discuss the issue after drafting a global strategy document aimed at reducing the millions of deaths attributed each year to alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol is the third leading risk factor for premature death and disability in the world, the WHO says, and it was linked to nearly 4% of all deaths in 2004 – about 2.5m people.

‘The harmful use of alcohol compromises both individual and social development,’ the organisation’s draft strategy says.

‘It can ruin the lives of individuals, devastate families and damage the fabric of communities.’

The WHO strategy calls for ‘concerted action’ to tackle the issue, outlining a broad range of policy options related to the treatment and prevention of alcohol-related disorders, community action and the regulation of alcohol sales.

Most controversially, the policy options include the possible raising of the minimum age for purchasing alcohol, as well as the introduction of higher taxes and minimum pricing.

‘Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol,’ the WHO says.

Such increases – criticised by opponents for penalising sensible drinkers – would have a much greater effect on heavy drinkers, the report claims.

Should the strategy be approved next week, it will be referred to the WHO’s annual assembly in May for formal adoption, but will have no binding legal force with national governments.

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Written by Richard Woodard

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