EU's free trade rules exacerbate alcohol-related harm

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Friday June 9, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Thursday June 8, 2006.

Europe's commitment to the common market is contributing to alcohol-related harm by forcing member states to put free trade before health, states an Editorial in this week's issue of The Lancet.

Strong evidence shows that higher taxes, restrictions on alcohol availability, and random breath-testing for drivers could reduce Europe's growing burden of alcohol-related harm, which causes at least 115 000 deaths every year. However, moves by European governments to weaken alcohol-control measures--as, for example, the UK has done by relaxing licensing laws--ignore this evidence and instead pander to vested interests in free trade and industry, states the Editorial.

Under the rules of the common market, EU member states cannot discriminate against products from another European country on the grounds of health, which limits their freedom to design health-protecting tax laws. The (€)1•5 billion of subsidies channeled to alcohol producers through the common agricultural policy is a further complication for prioritising health in EU law. The Lancet believes that these inflexible structures undermine national alcohol-control policies and contribute to social harm.

The Lancet comments: "The two central tenets of alcohol policy currently favoured by the EU's politicians--public education and self regulation by the alcoholic-beverage industry--are, the evidence shows, a costly waste of time…As long as negotiations over alcohol policy are dominated by the vested interests of free trade and industry--under the spurious banner of personal choice--governments in the EU will continue to shirk their moral obligations to protect their populations from the preventable risk of alcohol-related harm."

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Contact: The Lancet press office T) +44 (0) 207 424 4949/4249 pressoffice@lancet.com


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