EU: Health ministers to discuss alcohol abuse

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New EU president nation Sweden will this week host a meeting of member state health ministers to discuss the fight against alcohol-related harm in the region.

Concern is growing within the drinks industry that Sweden's six-month term in the rotating EU presidency, which began this month, will lead to a more hardline stance against drinks firms, one industry source told just-drinks today (6 July).

Ministers from the EU's 27 member states, as well as members of the European Commission, will meet in Sweden tomorrow (7 July) to discuss progress on the Commission's strategy to tackle alcohol-related harm.

Sweden, which follows Czech Republic as EU president, has one of the toughest domestic policies on alcohol in the EU. Retail sales are controlled via a state-backed monopoly, Systembolaget, and the country's tax on alcohol is among the highest in the EU.

Alcohol is responsible for around 200,000 premature deaths in the EU annually, according to the Commission's alcohol strategy, published in 2006.

Sweden's Government indicated ahead of this week's meeting that it would focus on advertising during its presidential term: "Particular focus will be given to commercial communication and how alcohol advertisements affect alcohol consumption patterns among young people," it said.

Industry association Brewers of Europe on Friday met with European health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, in order to press the advantages of self-regulation and remind the Commission of the need for a balanced debate.

"We are very happy to work with the Swedish presidency, our only concern is to make sure that debate is fair and balanced," a spokesperson for Brewers of Europe told just-drinks.

Industry associations such as Brewers of Europe and the European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) are part of the EU Alcohol and Health Forum set up by the Commission as a way of encouraging discussion on alcohol use. 

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