Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use

Economics and Public Health Policy

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Alcoholic beverages, and their harmful use, have been familiar fixtures in human societies since the beginning of recorded history. Worldwide, alcohol is a leading cause of ill health and premature mortality. It accounts for 1 in 17 deaths, and for a significant proportion of disabilities, especially in men. In OECD countries, alcohol consumption is about twice the world average. Its social costs are estimated in excess of 1% of GDP in high- and middle-income countries. When it is not the result of addiction, alcohol use is an individual choice, driven by social norms, with strong cultural connotations. This is reflected in unique patterns of social disparity in drinking, showing the well-to-do in some cases more prone to hazardous use of alcohol, and a polarisation of problem-drinking at the two ends of the social spectrum. Certain patterns of drinking have social impacts, which provide a strong economic rationale for governments to influence the use of alcohol through policies aimed at curbing harms, including those occurring to people other than drinkers. Some policy approaches are more effective and efficient than others, depending on their ability to trigger changes in social norms, and on how well they can target the groups that are most at risk. This book provides a detailed examination of trends and social disparities in alcohol consumption. It offers a wide-ranging assessment of the health, social and economic impacts of key policy options for tackling alcohol-related harms in three OECD countries (Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany), extracting relevant policy messages for a broader set of countries.


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Alcohol advertising and heavy drinking

The alcohol industry spends billions of dollars each year trying to create positive brand images, increase brand name recognition and ultimately increase profits. Advertising Age’s list of the top 100 global advertisers in 2012 includes five alcohol companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Diageo, Heineken, Pernod Ricard and SABMiller (Advertising Age, 2012). Advertising data show that companies spent about USD 1.1 billion in 2011 on alcohol advertising on TV in the United States alone (WSJ, 2012). Televised alcohol advertising in eight European countries in 2007 accounted for about EUR 750 million (de Bruijn, 2013). Expenditures on other media and other forms of marketing are estimated to be even larger (Anderson et al., 2009; de Bruijn, 2013).

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