Targeted alcohol harm-reduction measures focused on at-risk groups are likely to prove more effective and efficient than broad, untargeted policy approaches which affect the entire population according to a new report commissioned by spiritsEUROPE, the trade association representing the European spirits sector.
The report, entitled ‘The Missing Link’, analyses the effectiveness and efficiency of untargeted population-wide measures in relation to the reduction of harmful alcohol consumption. It analyses the complex associations between per capita alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm based on long-term real-life data from Sweden and other European countries and comes to a sobering conclusion.
Following an extensive analysis of six decades of recorded alcohol consumption data in Sweden the report concludes that there’s no clear long-term correlation between the level of – and trend in – general per capita alcohol consumption and specific trends in major alcohol-related harm indicators.
Such alcohol-related harm indicators include heavy episodic drinking, life expectancy at birth, drink-driving deaths, underage drinking or chronic diseases related to harmful alcohol consumption.
The author concludes that targeted harm-reduction measures focused on at-risk groups will likely be more effective and efficient than broad, untargeted policy approaches affecting the entire population.
Advocates of untargeted population-wide measures often claim that the higher the price for alcoholic beverages, the lower the level of general per capita consumption and hence alcohol-related harm. However this claim does not really hold up when looking at the socio-economic realities and consumption patterns observed in a country such as Sweden over the past 60 years.
“In the long run, the affordability of alcoholic beverages in Sweden seems to have had little or no impact on average per capita alcohol consumption, which suggests that alcohol affordability does not correlate with per capita alcohol consumption in the way it is often proposed,” said the report’s lead investigator Dr Gregor Zwirn, “Moreover, alcohol-related harm indicators are declining irrespective of the level and trend in per capita alcohol consumption. Other factors than affordability and per capita alcohol consumption may better explain the decline in alcohol-related harm indicators.”
Another encouraging finding of the report is that today the Nordic drinking culture appears to be approaching the Mediterranean drinking style of moderate consumption consistently. The way Swedes consume alcoholic beverages, as well as their choice of alcoholic beverages, has changed, with heavy episodic drinking on the decline.
“For years, the spirits sector has been committed to help fighting harmful drinking and we believe that a one-size-fits-all approach does not exist,” said Ulrich Adam, Director General of spiritsEUROPE, “Rather than restricting all consumers, there seems to be a need to pursue targeted harm reduction strategies that better protect those most at risk. Doing so holds the promise of further improving the many positive trends in terms of moderate alcohol consumption that can be observed in various European countries such as Sweden in recent years.”
Total per capita alcohol consumption in Sweden – both recorded and unrecorded – went through several ups and downs over the past 60 years while income increased significantly over the same period: today, Swedish people earn more than three times as much as they earned in 1960.