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WHO’s Plan to Help Curb Alcohol Abuse

Posted on May 21, 2010 in Alcohol Addiction

The World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed a strategy on Thursday in an effort to help curb alcohol abuse, which includes getting tougher with companies that market alcohol on social media sites like Facebook. The strategy would also raise alcohol taxes and impose minimum pricing for alcoholic beverages.

In the 24-page report, WHO said that alcohol was being “marketed through increasingly sophisticated advertising and promotion techniques.” For example, on Facebook, at least 400,000 people “like” Heineken beer, and vodka makers Smirnoff Ice and Absolut are nearing 500,000 fans each. In addition, European youths have been using websites to organize binge-drinking festivals. Last week, a 21-year-old man died in France after an accident at a drinking party organized on Facebook and attended by 10,000 young people.

"Reducing the impact of marketing, particularly on young people and adolescents, is an important consideration in reducing harmful use of alcohol," WHO said in the report, adding that alcohol ads shouldn’t target young people because they can attract underage drinkers.

The Global Alcohol Producers Group (representing Heineken, Diageo, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and others) called the strategy an “important and constructive step forward in helping address alcohol issues around the world,” according to the Associated Press.

Spokeswoman Carol Clark said the Global Alcohol Producers Group would like to work with WHO to curb alcohol abuse, noting that they support minimum age requirements, drunk driving laws, and other optional measures suggested in WHO’s report.

Harmful drinking is the third leading risk factor for disability and premature death in the world, with 2.5 million deaths each year linked to alcohol, WHO said. This figure includes 320,000 people between 15 and 29, and many others develop heart and liver diseases, cancer, and HIV/AIDS because of alcohol abuse.

"Alcohol is the risk factor for many other things," said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s mental health and substance abuse department. "Usually it is not perceived as the killer, but it is."

In the report, WHO also said that taxes help reduce alcohol abuse. "The more affordable alcohol is … the more it is consumed," they said, calling for minimum prices on drinks and taxes and other pricing policies. "Consumers, including heavy drinkers and young people, are sensitive to changes in the price of drinks."

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