This week representatives from the 53 WHO European Region Member States adopted the WHO’s European Action Plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. However, it seems that commercial interests have precedence over health protection, as the final version of the plan has become considerably more industry-friendly, compared to earlier drafts. The most notable change is the absence of a EU-wide ban on alcohol marketing, which was still part of the plan in the draft version of last april. 

The message in the final version is formulated much weaker than in earlier drafts. For instance, the paragraph about marketing originally knew ‘the four progressive steps required’:

* The first step is to undertake a thorough review and analysis of existing systems including the volume and content of exposure. Such a review should ensure that no alcohol marketing practices fall outside the control of regulatory systems and thus go unregulated.

* The second step would be to streamline the existing marketing systems with the aim to cover all marketing channels and strengthen the enforcement.

* The next step would be to further restrict the volume and content of commercial alcohol communications, for example by only allowing those that describe the product directly, or by banning all such communications for example on television, radio, films and in sports
sponsorships.

* The fourth step would be to ban all forms of commercial alcohol communications, with the exception of media such as trade journals.

In the final version, these required steps have been replaced with ‘possible actions. The following ‘possilbe actions’ take the place of a EU-wide ban on alcohol marketing:

* Setting up regulatory or co-regulatory frameworks, preferably with a legislative basis and supported when appropriate by self-regulatory measures, for alcohol marketing by:
– regulating the content and volume of marketing;
– regulating sponsorship activities that promote alcoholic beverages;
– restricting or banning promotions in connection with activities targeting young people;
– regulating new forms of alcohol marketing techniques, for instance social media.

* Development by public agencies or independent bodies of effective systems of surveillance of marketing of alcohol products.

* Setting up effective administrative and deterrence systems for infringements of marketing restrictions.

* Regulating direct or indirect marketing in some or all media.

Health experts and NGOs across Europe have reacted dissapointed to the final version of the Alcohol Action Plan. Project coordinator Avalon de Bruijn issued the followong: “Recognizing the harmful effects of alcohol marketing on drinking behavior of young people, we were enthusiastic about the draft version of the action plan. It was stimulating and in line with existing research and policy recommendations from health NGOs. Although EUCAM still encourages a European Action Plan, we have to conclude that the lobby of economic interests has weakened this action plan considerably and has forced good intentions of the WHO into a strategy without any power.”

Click here to view the final version of the WHO’s European Alcohol Action Plan
Click here to view the April 2011 draft version of the WHO’s European Alcohol Action Plan

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