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WHO to meet beverage company representatives to discuss health-related alcohol issues

World Health Organization (WHO) will host a meeting with selected alcohol beverage company representatives in Geneva on February 12, 2003 to exchange views on the impact of alcohol on global health. Between them, the companies represent more than half of total global alcohol sales. The meeting follows informal discussions over the past six months with a number of alcohol companies, and reflects WHO’s determination to engage with all interested stakeholders in formulating a policy to address the public health consequences of alcohol use worldwide.

The impact of alcohol on global health was highlighted by data obtained for the recently released World Health Report 2002; Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life, where alcohol consumption featured among the top 10 risks to health. Alcohol is the leading health risk in some developing countries, and ranks third in industrialized nations. Worldwide, alcohol causes 1.8 million deaths, equal to 4% of the global disease burden; the proportion is greatest in the Americas and Europe. Globally alcohol was estimated to cause 20-30% of oesophageal cancer, liver disease, epilepsy, motor vehicle crashes, and homicide and other intentional injuries, says WHR 2002. These findings have reinforced WHO’s work on strengthening its policy responses in this area.

"Worldwide, 5% of all deaths of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 were attributable to alcohol use, and that globally, 140 million people were suffering from alcohol dependence," says Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General. At the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Young People and Alcohol in February 2001, Dr Brundtland called for a concerted review by international experts of the issue of marketing and promotion of alcohol to young people.

A follow-up meeting of technical experts in Valencia, Spain, in May 2002, concluded that young people across the globe lived in environments characterized by “aggressive and ubiquitous efforts encouraging them to initiate drinking and to drink heavily.” The Valencia declaration noted that new responses were required to address the issues of alcohol marketing to young people. “The global nature of the marketing demands a response at international, national and local levels. “

The proposed objectives of next week’s Geneva meeting are to brief participants on current WHO activities in the alcohol policy area; to brief WHO on relevant corporate social responsibility initiatives; and to exchange views on how to make progress in two areas: drinking and driving, and the marketing and promotion of alcohol to young people.

“Alcohol is a serious global challenge,” says Dr Derek Yach, WHO Executive Director, Noncommunicable DIseases and Mental Health. “We need to act now to prevent the already high levels of alcohol-related harm in both the industrialized countries and many developing countries.

“But we recognise that problems related to alcohol use are a complex issue, which demand different responses depending on local and regional cultures and patterns of alcohol use. We will pay strong attention to the evidence base in assessing which mechanisms can best secure support for effective policies on issues such as drinking and driving and marketing to young people. We see next week’s meeting as an opportunity for WHO to engage in a positive and transparent way with the alcohol beverage industry, and for the industry to be proactive in suggesting how they can contribute to solving some of these problems.”

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For more information contact:

Ms Leanne Riley
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 4319
E-mail: rileyl@who.int