UN agencies urge Caribbean governments to impose measures to curb alcohol consumption

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WASHINGTON, Jul 22, CMC –Two United Nations health organisations are calling on Caribbean governments to implement measures that would curb the consumption of alcohol after a new study found that alcohol consumption in the Americas is higher on average than the rest of the world.

“There are many actions that governments can take to control access to alcohol, including government monopolies, limiting hours and days of sale, and enforcement of minimum purchasing ages,” the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) say after releasing the  findings of a Regional Status Report on Alcohol and Health in the Americas.

“Limiting availability, restricting marketing, and increasing prices through taxation are three of the “Best Buys” recommended by the WHO to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases through cost-effective interventions.

“These policies, along with measures to counter drinking and driving, are part of WHO’s Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. A number of other effective actions also exist, and countries should prioritize as many of these interventions as possible,” the two UN agencies said.

They said that rates of heavy episodic drinking (HED) have risen in the past five years, from 4.6 to 13 per cent among women and 17.9 to 29.4 per cent among men.

They said alcohol led to approximately one death every 100 seconds, on average, in the Americas in 2012 and that it contributed to more than 300,000 deaths in the region, with more than 80,000 of those involving deaths that would not have occurred had alcohol not been consumed.

“Alcohol use contributes to more than 200 diseases and injuries, including cancers, HIV/AIDS, and various mental disorders. Alcohol was the cause for more than 274,000,000 years of healthy life lost in the Americas in 2012. About 5.7 per cent of the region’s population reported suffering from an alcohol use disorder, although the number is likely higher.”

The two UN organizations also noted that the report noted that alcohol is the leading risk factor for death and disability among people aged 15–49 in the Americas and worldwide.

“This is the age range in which people are typically at their most productive. A 2006 U.S. study estimated that the harmful use of alcohol cost that country approximately US$224 billion (an average of $750 per  person), 72 per cent  of which was attributed to lost workplace productivity.

“Other substantial costs to society exist, including when drinking leads to arrest, property damage, job loss, or health service visits.”
They warn that as countries in the Americas, including those in the Caribbean, develop economically,” we can expect to see an increase in alcohol consumption and related harms in the absence of effective policies to prevent them.

“Evidence also suggests that the socioeconomically disadvantaged often experience more harm from the same levels of consumption than their wealthier counterparts, possibly due to the lack of access to health care resources or greater social exclusion.”

The UN agencies note that in most countries of the Americas, alcohol is produced and sold by private entities, and governments may or may not regulate and monitor these activities in the interest of public health.

They said alcohol marketing restrictions are likely to have a large impact on women, who are less prone to have started drinking than are men, and an even greater effect on youth, who are more susceptible

to advertising.

“Total bans are the most effective type of marketing regulation and are relatively inexpensive to enforce,” PAHO/WHO said, adding that reducing the affordability of alcohol has an effect on all aspects of drinking, including prevalence of drinking, frequency, and intensity of consumption, as well as on many of the consequences of excessive drinking.

“Alcohol taxes are an efficient way to raise government revenue. They require relatively little additional enforcement mechanisms and the revenues can be used to provide health and social services, further improving equity at the population level.”