PAHO’s 51st Directing Council approved a new Plan of Action to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol that seeks to lower levels of per-capita alcohol consumption and reduce alcohol-related harm. It proposes measures ranging from increased taxes on alcohol sales and restrictions on marketing, to training for primary health care workers in screening and treatment for risky drinkers.
According to WHO data, alcohol consumption was the leading risk factor for deaths and illnesses in the Americas in 2004 and was responsible for more than 347,000 deaths.
The most common pattern of consumption in the hemisphere is the most risky pattern: heavy episodic drinking, mostly by males. This leads to acute and chronic health problems including injuries, mental health disorders, cancers, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. It also negatively affects other people, such as the victims of drunk-driving car crashes and alcohol-related violence.
The plan of action calls for countries—with PAHO/WHO technical support—to take actions including:
- Set low legal limits on blood-alcohol levels for drinking and driving violations and ensure quick and effective consequences for people caught driving with higher levels.
- Use taxation and pricing to decrease the harmful use of alcohol, for example, through taxes based on alcohol content or special taxes on beverages targeted at youths.
- Consider dedicating some alcohol-tax revenues to prevention and treatment as well as public health counter-advertising.
- Reduce the availability of alcohol through restrictions on age, type of outlets, and hours for the sale and purchase of alcohol.
- Ban the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons and promote bar-owner liability for alcohol-related violence and injuries resulting from intoxication that occurs on their premises.
- Limit the marketing of alcoholic beverages, especially to young people and vulnerable groups. Monitor industry compliance voluntary codes of conduct.
- Train healthcare providers to detect, prevent, treat and rehabilitate men and women—including pregnant women—suffering from harmful use of alcohol in primary health care and across the health system.
- Promote research on the health and social effects of harmful drinking on men, women, and different ethnic groups as well as the effects on human capital and economic development.
- Involve other sectors, including education, labor, transportation, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system to increase public awareness about the harmful consumption of alcohol.