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NGOs resign from health forum as commission ignores member state and European parliament calls for alcohol strategy

3 June 2015

Public Health NGOs have today resigned from the EU Alcohol and Health Forum, following the announcement by Commissioner Andriukaitis that he has no plans to establish a new EU Alcohol Strategy. The Commissioner’s decision goes against demands from Member States and the European Parliament for a new comprehensive Strategy to tackle alcohol harm in Europe.

Membership of the Forum, which is chaired by DG Sante, includes drinks industry representatives and public health NGOs. More than 20 health bodies, including Eurocare (European Alcohol Policy Alliance), EPHA (European Public Health Alliance) and the CPME (Standing Committee of European Doctors) today tendered their collective resignation in an open letter to Commissioner Andriukaitis.

Signatories to the letter outline their “deep concerns” about the neglect of public health and the prioritisation of alcohol industry interests. These include:
• The Commission is ignoring calls from the European Parliament and Member States to develop a new EU Alcohol Strategy
• The Commission plans to include alcohol within a wider framework for tackling chronic disease, which would fail to address many harms caused by alcohol to those other than the drinker, such as drink driving, domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation
• There is no evidence to show that the EU Alcohol and Health Forum has had any impact on public health
• The Forum was established to support the implementation of the previous EU Alcohol Strategy, which ended in 2012. With no new Strategy planned, membership of the Forum cannot be justified.
Signatories also expressed disappointment that the Commissioner had rejected requests for public health experts to have a formal structure to meet with Commission officials to discuss alcohol policy, free from vested interest groups.

Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare, said: “The Commissioner himself stated drinking behaviours in Europe are good for the Alcohol Industry but not good for Health. Eurocare represents 58 organisations in 25 countries and we deeply regret the Commission’s decision not to establish a new EU Alcohol Strategy. This flies in the face of persistent demands from Member States, the European Parliament and NGOs. The EU is the heaviest drinking region in the world and with 120,000 premature deaths related to alcohol each year, we absolutely must have a comprehensive strategy to tackle alcohol harm.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the EU Alcohol and Health Forum’s Science Group said, “This is a sad day for those who care about health in Europe. The Commission’s prioritisation of alcohol industry interests over public health has been laid bare. Many NGOs have participated actively and in good faith in the EU Alcohol and Health Forum, in the hope of making progress and reducing alcohol harm. However, with no evidence to indicate the Forum has achieved any meaningful results, and no promise of a new Alcohol Strategy, we see no alternative to walking away from this failing organization.”

Nina Renshaw, Secretary General of EPHA, said, "The alcohol industry must have raised a few glasses to DG SANTE after their admission at the last Forum meeting that they don't even aim to improve health. The Commission has finally admitted what the health community has long suspected - that they have abandoned alcohol policy altogether. The Forum has proved worse than useless, a free PR front for the industry. The Commission even endorses the industry introducing drinking culture to young kids by promoting "responsible" drinking in primary schools. The health community had to call time on this charade."

Source: www.eurocare.org

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