Prohibition by Stealth: W.H.O. Pushes Tax Increases, Price Controls to Limit Alcohol Consumption

Young women in traditional Bavarian dress raise their beer glasses in a beer tent at the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, southern Germany, on September 22, 2019. - The world's biggest beer festival Oktoberfest will be running until October 6, 2019. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP) (Photo credit should …

Put that drink down and step away from the bar. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) is concerned at global rates of alcohol consumption and published advice Tuesday calling for a lift in taxation rates as well as price controls to keep it out of reach.

The moves were aired as the W.H.O. prepared for a conference addressing the issue of alcohol consumption in Europe and ways to limit access through regulation, prohibition and control.

It argued, “alcohol pricing policies and taxation are among the most effective and cost–effective measures to reduce alcohol consumption and harms – but most countries of the W.H.O. European Region still do not use these valuable tools to their full potential.”

Prohibitions on alcohol supply remain a regular theme for the U.N. organization.

The W.H.O. bases its latest push for more controls on the desire to curb drinkers who have seen their favorite tipple remain (relatively) cheap as other commodity prices have risen on the back of inflation. It argues:

Over the past decades, alcohol has become more affordable in the European Region because the vast majority of countries do not adjust their alcohol prices for inflation, which is making alcohol cheaper relative to other goods people are buying. One measure that could prevent this development is the introduction of a minimum price below which alcoholic beverages cannot be sold by law.

The W.H.O. report is titled, “No place for cheap alcohol. The potential value of minimum pricing for protecting lives” and sets out its call for prohibition of certain types and categories, pointing to alcohol being responsible for almost one million deaths in Europe each year.

The European region has the highest global share of deaths caused by alcohol consumption – about 12 percent of male and eight percent of female deaths, it said.

It further argues freedom of choice to drink brings with it other issues: “Alcohol use disorders are just the tip of the iceberg. Alcohol consumption causes cardiovascular and digestive diseases, cancers and injuries – and increases mortality levels in many different contexts.”

The report outlines minimum unit prices affect the cost of cheap, high-strength alcohol because they are linked to the alcohol content of a drink.

In January the W.H.O. released its first “Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol” and Tuesday’s move is a continuation of that effort in weaning the world away from the lure of drinking through increased regulation and control.

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