WHO to tackle alcohol misuse, binge drinking

Thu May 20, 2010 6:17am EDT
 
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Health ministers on Thursday agreed to try to curb binge drinking and other growing forms of excessive alcohol use through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing regulations.

The global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol was adopted by consensus at the annual assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The recommendations, drawn up after two years of debate, are not binding but serve as guidance to WHO's 193 member states.

"Alcohol contributes to accidents, mental health problems, social problems and harms third parties," said Bernt Bull, a senior advisor in Norway's health ministry. Nordic countries spearheaded the initiative at the United Nations agency.

A relatively high excise tax on alcoholic beverages and regulations limiting their availability was helping to reduce alcohol-related diseases in Norway, he said.

The WHO estimates that risks linked to alcohol cause 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides and various cancers -- 3.8 percent of all deaths. It is the third leading risk factor for premature deaths and disabilities worldwide.

"The harmful use of alcohol has a serious effect on public health and is considered to be one of the main risk factors for poor health globally," the WHO strategy document says.

There is strong evidence that a low limit for blood alcohol concentration (0.02 to 0.05 percent) is effective in reducing drink-driving casualties, it says.   Continued...