Doubling alcohol taxes would save 5,000 lives a year, says WHO

Doubling the excise duties on alcohol would prevent 5,000 alcohol-related cancer deaths a year in the WHO’s European Region, according to a new study.

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The highest number of potentially avoidable alcohol-related cancer cases and deaths are in the Russian Federation, the UK and Germany.

Around 10,700 alcohol-related cancer cases and 4,850 deaths would be prevented, WHO states, with the UK, Germany and Russia the main beneficiaries.

Modelling the impact of increased alcohol taxation on alcohol-attributable cancers in the WHO European Region sets out models for three different scenarios, with current excise duties increased by 20 per cent, 50 per cent or 100 per cent. A doubling of duties could potentially save 1,700 lives from colorectal cancer and 1,000 women’s lives from breast cancer, it says. The highest number of potentially avoidable alcohol-related cancer cases and deaths are in the UK, with 1,800 avoidable cases and 680 avoidable deaths, followed by the Russian Federation with 1,400 cases and 725 deaths, and Germany with 1,250 cases and 525 deaths.

WHO sees increasing alcohol duties as one of its ‘best buy’ policies – measures that ‘cost-effectively’ reduce alcohol use and the associated health burden. ‘In many of the countries of the WHO European Region current levels of taxation remain low, particularly within the European Union,’ said study author and member of WHO’s Advisory Council on Innovation for Noncommunicable Diseases, Dr Jürgen Rehm. ‘That’s why WHO Europe recommends increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages as one of the best measures with potentially high impact.’

‘In 2020, more than 4.8m people in the WHO European Region developed cancer,’ added co-author Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, acting head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. ‘The rate of cancer in the region is the highest in the world, and high levels of alcohol consumption contribute to this. Alcohol is linked to seven different types of cancer. The good news is that in Europe, up to 40 per cent of cancers could be prevented, and we have many opportunities to defeat cancer as a life-threatening disease in the near future. Doubling current alcohol excises in the WHO European Region can help us avoid around 6 per cent of new cancer cases and deaths linked to alcohol consumption.’

Study in Lancet Regional Health – Europe here

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