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Reducing Global Impact of Alcohol on Health


FROM: Dr Ross Boswell, NZMA Chairman

DATE: 17 October 2005

SUBJECT: World Medical Association Proposes Measures to Reduce Global Impact of Alcohol on Health

Please note: NZMA comment on WMA measures are contained towards the end of release.

Far reaching measures to help reduce the global impact of alcohol on health and society have been proposed by the World Medical Association.

They include the possible setting of a minimum legal purchase age, restricting hours or days of sale and the number of sales outlets, increasing alcohol taxes, and implementing effective measures to deal with alcohol impaired driving.

The WMA also proposes restricting the promotion, advertising and provision of alcohol to young people, work on reducing the harmful use of alcohol in the workplace, the promotion of evidence-based prevention strategies in schools, and screening patients for alcohol use disorders and at-risk drinking.

A statement approved by physicians from more than 40 countries meeting at the WMA’s annual Assembly in Santiago, Chile warned: ‘Regular alcohol consumption and binge drinking in adolescents can negatively affect school performance, increase participation in crime and adversely affect sexual performance and behaviour.’

It also warned that in recent years constraints on the production, mass marketing and patterns of consumption of alcohol had been weakened, resulting in the increased availability of alcohol and changes in drinking patterns across the world. This had created a global health problem which urgently required intervention.

The WMA statement said that alcohol use was deeply embedded in many societies. Some four per cent of the global burden of disease was attributable to alcohol, accounting for as much death and disability as tobacco or hypertension. Overall, there was a relationship between alcohol consumption and more than sixty types of disease and injury, including traffic fatalities.

Alcohol advertising and promotion is rapidly expanding throughout the world and is increasingly sophisticated and carefully targeted, including to youth. It is aimed to attract, influence, and recruit new generations of potential drinkers despite industry codes of self-regulation that are widely ignored and often not enforced.

The statement went on: ‘Heavy drinkers and those with alcohol-related problems or alcohol dependence cause a significant share of the problems resulting from consumption. However, in most countries, the majority of alcohol-related problems in a population are associated with harmful or hazardous drinking by non-dependent “social” drinkers, particularly when intoxicated. This is particularly a problem of young people in many regions of the world who drink with the intent of becoming intoxicated.

‘Although research has found some limited positive health effects of low levels of alcohol consumption in some populations, this must be weighed against potential harm from consumption in those same populations as well as in the population as a whole.

‘Thus, population-based approaches that affect the social drinking environment and the availability of alcoholic beverages are more effective than individual approaches, such as education, for preventing alcohol related problems and illness. Alcohol policies that affect drinking patterns by limiting access and by discouraging drinking by young people through setting a minimum legal purchasing age are especially likely to reduce harm. Laws to reduce permitted blood alcohol levels for drivers and to control the number of sales outlets have been effective in lowering alcohol problems.’

The Chairman of the New Zealand Medical Association, Dr Ross Boswell, said: ‘The NZMA strongly supports the WMA statement. Alcohol abuse is a significant health problem in our country.

‘We are particularly concerned about the effects of alcohol on youth which have become increasingly apparent since the age at which alcohol can be purchased in New Zealand was lowered to 18. We are concerned that binge drinking amongst people younger than 18 has increased since it has become easier for them to pass themselves off as being of legal age.

‘We supported the referral to Parliamentary Select Committee this year of a Bill containing a proposal to raise the legal drinking age, and we continue to support and promote measures to promote healthy attitudes to alcohol use and to reduce harm.’


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