APYN and other NGOs resign from the EU Alcohol and Health Forum as calls for new Alcohol Strategy are ignored

02.06.2015
Public Health NGOs have on 2. 6. 2015 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 APYN (Alcohol Policy Youth Network), 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."



What is the European Alcohol and Health Forum?

The EU Alcohol and Health Forum is a stakeholder platform, chaired by DG Sante. Its members consist of public health experts and NGOs, and alcohol industry trade bodies and representatives. The Forum was established in 2006 to support the implementation of the previous EU Alcohol Strategy, which expired in 2012. Members of the Forum make voluntary ‘commitments’ and pledges for actions that aim to help reduce the burden of alcohol harm in Europe.



The public-health organizations on 2. 6. 2015 collectively resigned from the European Alcohol and Health Forum with the following letter to the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Dr. Andriukaitis.

---

Dear Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Dr. Andriukaitis,

We write to you as a group of public health organisations to express our deep concerns that there are no plans to develop a comprehensive EU Alcohol Strategy and to tender our collective resignations from the EU Alcohol and Health Forum for the following reasons:
 
  1. The Forum was established as a tool to support the implementation of the EU Alcohol Strategy, which expired in 2012. Given the absence of plans to develop a new Alcohol Strategy, our participation in the EU Alcohol and Health Forum can no longer be justified.
  2. The European Parliament recently demanded a comprehensive and focused EU Alcohol Strategy. The Commission’s decision ignores this and also contradicts the requests from Member States via letters from 17 Health Ministers and the Committee of National Alcohol Policy Action.
  3. This decision also ignores repeated calls from public health bodies and NGOs for a renewed Strategy.

We also wish to make the following points:

The incorporation of EU alcohol policy into a broad framework for the prevention of non-communicable diseases will not sufficiently address the burden of alcohol harm in Europe. Crime, violence, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation and road traffic accidents are just some of the many externalities associated with alcohol harm that would be neglected through this approach.

Several of the signatories to this letter were founding members of the Forum, but since its inception have raised concerns about its efficacy. Concerns have been raised about the lack of evidence to indicate that voluntary commitments from the alcohol industry lead to reductions in alcohol harm. We have also raised objections, including to yourself at the Forum meeting on 18/05/15, about the lack of formal structure available to public health bodies to discuss evidence for effective alcohol policy in the absence of vested interest groups.

Until now, we have remained members of the European Alcohol and Health Forum, acting in good faith that participation and cooperation would allow us to achieve progress on reducing alcohol harm. However, to date, there have been no evaluation studies of Forum commitments which demonstrate any impact on public health.

Moving forward, we will focus our efforts on working together to pursue public health goals, free from conflicts of interests, and would welcome your suggestions on how this might be achieved.

Yours sincerely,

  • Mariann Skar, Secretary General, European Alcohol Policy alliance (Eurocare)
  • Nina Renshaw, Secretary General, European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)
  • Katrin Fjeldsted, President, Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME)
  • Wendy Yared, Director, European Cancer Leagues (ECL)
  • Laurent Castera, Secretary-General, European Association of the Study of the Liver (EASL)
  • Jan Peloza, President, Alcohol Policy Youth Network (APYN)
  • Ennio Palmesino, Delegate for European Affairs, European Mutual Help Network for Alcohol related problem (EMNA)
  • Prof Thierry Ponchon, Chair of Public Affairs Committee, United European Gastroenterology (UEG)
  • Mervi Jokinen, President, European Midwives Association (EMA)
  • Peter Allebeck, President, Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network (NordAN)
  • Kristina Mickevičiūtė, Vice-President on External Affairs, European Medical Students' Association (EMSA)
  • Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of EAHF Science Group
  • Katherine Brown, Director, Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), UK
  • Eric Carlin, Director, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP)
  • Professor Nick Sheron, Representative to the EU Alcohol and Health Forum,
  • Royal College of Physicians London, UK (RCP)
  • Claude Riviere, Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie (ANPAA)
  • Adisa Dizdarević , Secretary General, No Excuse Slovenia
  • Tiziana Codenotti, Eurocare Italy
  • Lauri Beekmann, President, Estonian Temperance Union
  • Suzanne Costello, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland
  • Gabriele Bartsch, German Centre for Addiction (DHS)
Twitter