A comprehensive alcohol policy framework
According to the European School Survey Project 2011, at 86 per cent, alcohol use among 16-year-olds in Malta remained high when compared to an EU average of 79 per cent, although Malta’s result was down by one per cent over a similar survey four years ago.
Moreover, 14 per cent of Maltese 16-year-olds said they had some sort of physical fight in the past 12 months because of alcohol; the EU average stood at 11 per cent.
There is, of course, room for concern. More so in view of the fact that research conducted under the umbrella of the Ammie (Alcohol Monitoring Marketing in Europe) project, shows that self-regulation in alcohol marketing does not seem to protect young people’s exposure to alcohol commercials.
The Ammie research, co-financed by the European Commission and coordinated by the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy, was carried out in Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands in cooperation with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health in the US.
Its findings contrast sharply with recent statements by the alcohol industry, which insists that self-regulation is functioning well and should be widened.
On their part, the Ammie researchers have concluded that only a total ban on alcohol advertising can prevent the harmful impact of alcohol advertising on the drinking levels of young people.
It is not known to what extent the findings of the Ammie study apply or otherwise to the situation in Malta. What is known is that, according to the results of the European School Survey carried out in 36 countries, drunkenness among 16-year-olds over a span of 30 days was 20 per cent in the case of Malta when the EU average stood at 17 per cent.
Alcohol is the world’s number one risk for ill-health and premature death in the 25-59-year-old age group, with Europe being the heaviest drinking region in the world. Moreover, alcohol abuse is one of the four risk factors for developing non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular problems. It is, therefore, imperative to address the problem wisely.
In the EU, pressure is mounting in favour of compulsory minimum alcohol pricing policies. In certain countries, like, say, Britain, plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing are being looked at as helpful to stop the country’s culture of drinking to excess. The cost of alcoholic drinks in Malta cannot be said to be that high and this can lead to excess consumption, especially among young English-language students.
According to a Maltese government spokesman, minimum alcohol prices are being considered within the context of a National Alcohol Policy that is being drawn up. The spokesman also pointed out that the new policy is being drafted “in consultation with all stakeholders”.
The feeling in Europe is that the issue of alcohol abuse should be addressed through effective policies. It is acknowledged that alcohol abuse is too big for governments to solve alone. It therefore requires a comprehensive, coordinated response from policy and decision makers as well as all the stakeholders.
The views of the business community may not always be on the same wavelength as the organisations campaigning, for instance, for a total alcohol marketing ban and minimum price controls. They may agree on, say, the need of stronger education campaigns and training for professionals but the road ahead does have its own challenges.
Yet, there is no doubt that the issue must be addressed with the full resolve it deserves and as quickly as possible.
What is needed is a comprehensive alcohol policy framework.