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Estonian health organizations challenge proposed reforms in alcohol advertising policies

08.01.2024 - In Estonia, a concerning development has emerged as the Ministry of Economic Affairs initiates a working group largely comprised of representatives from the alcohol and advertising industries. The group's aim is to liberalize the Advertising Act, allowing greater self-regulation for these industries. This move has sparked a strong campaign led by the Estonian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition (ETAK), highlighting the problematic relationship between the ministry and the industries, which poses a clear conflict of interest.

The issue at hand is the proposed easing of restrictions on alcohol advertising, which have historically been in place to protect public health, particularly the well-being of minors, and to ensure overall societal safety. The coalition, representing organizations that deal with alcohol-related harm, urges members of the Estonian Parliament to oppose these industry-led plans that could lead to more liberal promotion of alcohol consumption in public spaces.

Estonia, along with other Baltic nations, has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in Europe. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a global goal to reduce alcohol consumption by at least 10% by 2025. In 2022, Estonian adults consumed an average of 11.2 liters of pure alcohol per capita, and alcohol-related diseases claimed 753 lives, a record high. The damages related to alcohol use are preventable, and reducing consumption can lead to significant positive changes.

The coalition draws parallels between alcohol and tobacco policies. Finland, for instance, aims to end the use of tobacco and nicotine products by 2030. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, ratified by Estonia in 2005, highlights the importance of being vigilant against industry interference in policies aimed at reducing consumption. This precedent suggests that even legal industries should not have the right to shape policies related to their products due to inherent conflicts of interest.

Scientific evidence increasingly shows the dangers of alcohol consumption. A 2018 study in The Lancet concluded that the safest level of drinking is none. WHO reiterates that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, capable of causing seven types of cancer. This year, the Nordic Council of Ministers' nutrition recommendations advised avoiding alcohol consumption due to the lack of a safe consumption threshold.

The social impact of alcohol use is also significant. Issues range from domestic violence and mental health problems to drunk driving and crime. Many children in Estonia live in families affected by alcohol dependency, impacting their entire lives. Early alcohol use and its association with violent behavior are also concerns.

ETAK's members, including representatives from various health and welfare organizations, urge Estonian politicians and ministries to prioritise public health over the interests of the alcohol industry. They call for a reduction in conflicts of interest, particularly in health policy, and stress the importance of protecting the health of the public, especially children and young people, from industry-influenced legislation. The coalition's stand is a crucial step in safeguarding public health and ensuring responsible alcohol policy in Estonia.

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