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Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use

Economics and Public Health Policy

image of Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use

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, the individual and society: A call for coherent alcohol policies

While the rationale for government action to tackle harmful alcohol use is strong, the challenges involved in designing, implementing, and building consensus around effective policy measures are daunting. The interests at stake are so powerful and so diverse, and the views of the problem so polarised, that inertia has often been the norm in the past. But action has been gathering new momentum with the emergence of compelling evidence of the health and economic consequences of harmful alcohol use and of the effectiveness of policies to address them. Voices from civil society have been growing stronger, and governments have increasingly recognised their own role in alcohol policy making with major national and international policy initiatives. The evidence available today, to which this book contributes, provides solid foundations for the development of comprehensive, wide-ranging policy strategies to change the social norms upon which long-established harmful drinking habits are based. Initiatives promoted by the alcohol industry may contribute to addressing harmful alcohol use, as part of a multi-stakeholder policy framework, provided that evidence of their impact is available from rigorous and independent evaluations.

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