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Philippe Roux on Alcohol and Cancer: Insights into the Europe Beating Cancer Plan

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07.06.2023 - In an informative interaction with Philippe Roux, the Head of the Cancer, Health in all Policies Unit at the European Commission, DG Health and Food Safety, we explored the ongoing efforts of the Europe Beating Cancer Plan. This especially concerns the part on alcohol, a long-standing public health concern due to also its association as a significant cancer risk factor.
Mr Roux shed light on the initiatives in place and under consideration for reducing alcohol-related harm. These include amendments in alcohol taxation laws, mandatory labelling of alcoholic beverages, and measures to reduce young people's exposure to online alcohol marketing.
The Commission's efforts are evolving in response to the persistent issue of alcohol-related harm and cancer, seeking to protect public health in the face of this enduring challenge. This interaction offers a timely snapshot of this ongoing work.

Philippe Roux, the Head of the Cancer, Health in all Policies Unit at the European Commission, DG Health and Food Safety

Interview

AlcoholAndCancer: Given the identification of alcohol-related harm as a major public health concern and the fact that cancer is the leading cause of alcohol-attributable deaths, what specific strategies are being implemented or considered to achieve a reduction in the harmful use of alcohol by at least 10% by 2025?

Philippe Roux: To achieve a reduction in the harmful use of alcohol by at least 10% by 2025, the following initiatives have been included in the implementation roadmap to the cancer plan:

  • Review of EU legislation on taxation of alcohol

  • Review of legal framework on cross-border purchases of alcohol by private individuals

  • Proposal for mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients and nutrition declaration on alcoholic beverage products

  • Proposal for health warnings on alcoholic beverage products

  • Implementation of evidence-based brief interventions on alcohol

  • Young people’s exposure to online marketing of alcoholic beverages

  • Review of the EU agri-food promotion policy


In addition, the Healthier Together- EU non-communicable diseases (NCD) initiative, launched in December 2021, aims to support EU countries in identifying and implementing effective policies and actions to reduce the burden of major non-communicable diseases and address their risk factors. The initiative provides Member States with a guidance document and supports opportunities that help them to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the WHO targets on Non-Communicable Diseases, namely by effective action on health determinants, including the harmful consumption of alcohol.


The Europe Beating Cancer Plan has outlined several key milestones and deadlines, such as the mandatory labelling of ingredients and nutritional information on alcoholic beverages by the end of 2022 and health warnings on labels by the end of 2023. How are we progressing towards these deadlines, and what challenges might prevent us from achieving these goals as planned?

The Commission has been working on the revision of the food labelling rules under the Regulation on Food Information to Consumers, including the labelling of alcohol beverages. An impact assessment is currently in preparation, involving a wide-ranging evidence and data-gathering exercise. The aim of this revision is to have a positive impact on public health and that a common approach can be built at EU level, which is beneficial for European citizens and acceptable for our food businesses. Given the complexity and the sensitivity of changes to food labelling, additional evidence-gathering and analytical work are recommended to ensure consumer needs and perceptions are properly taken into consideration, in order to allow the design of balanced proposals.


Regarding the health warning on labels of alcoholic beverages, the European Commission is currently concentrating its efforts on preparatory work and evidence gathering to support the choice of possible next steps.


The Plan commits to reviewing EU legislation on the taxation of alcohol and cross-border purchases by private individuals. Can you update us on the progress of these reviews and share any preliminary insights from this process?

Concerning the EU legislation on the taxation of alcohol, an External Study was launched to support the evaluation of the rates and structures of excise duties on alcohol and alcoholic beverages. The final report was finalised in February 2023. The Commission services continue to work on the evaluation of Directive 92/84/EEC on the approximation of the rates of excise duty on alcohol and alcoholic beverages with no precise date for its finalisation yet.

 

Regarding cross-border purchases by private individuals, the initiative is on hold for the moment. Further analysis is considered needed to better reflect the relative flows and consumption patterns between the different products and to examine the role and competence of the different national authorities responsible for the enforcement of this provision.


One of the Plan's key strategies is to reduce the exposure of young people to online marketing of alcoholic beverages. Can you elaborate on the tactics being used or planned to achieve this?

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) includes a specific set of rules that linear (broadcasters) and non-linear services (video on-demand services) need to apply in relation to the advertising of alcoholic beverages. The AVMSD states that audiovisual commercial communications for alcoholic beverages shall not be aimed specifically at minors and shall not encourage immoderate consumption of such beverages.

 

The revised AVMSD has extended these rules also to video-sharing platforms where they market, sell or arrange audiovisual commercial communications themselves.  For audiovisual commercial communications they don’t control, video sharing platforms will have to include these requirements in their terms and conditions. For commercial communications included in user generated content, they will have to implement a transparency functionality for uploaders to declare such content and inform users about the presence of such commercial communications. Member States shall encourage video sharing platforms to use self and co-regulation with the aim of effectively reducing the exposure of children to audiovisual commercial communication for alcoholic beverages. Moreover, the revised AVMSD has strengthened the provisions to reduce the exposure of children and minors to audiovisual commercial communications for alcoholic beverages, including online, by encouraging codes of conduct at national and Union level.

 

Member States are primarily responsible to ensure the proper transposition of such rules and that video sharing platforms under their jurisdiction comply with the AVMSD provisions on alcoholic beverages.  The Commission is committed to ensuring that the revised AVMSD works well in practice and is closely monitoring the correct transposition and implementation of the AVMSD rules by Member States, including those on advertising for alcoholic beverages. The Commission is also preparing a report on the implementation of the AVMSD provisions, including those on alcoholic beverages, that should be adopted by the first half of 2023.


How would you evaluate the commitment of Member States to implementing evidence-based brief interventions on alcohol in primary healthcare, workplaces, and social services? What supportive measures can the Commission provide?

The Healthier Together - EU non-communicable diseases (NCD) initiative, launched in December 2021, aims to support EU countries in identifying and implementing effective policies and actions to reduce the burden of major non-communicable diseases and address their risk factors. The initiative provides Member States with a guidance document and supports opportunities that help them to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the WHO targets on Non-Communicable Diseases, namely by effective action on health determinants, including the harmful consumption of alcohol.


Given that even moderate alcohol intake has been linked to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, are there plans in place to improve public awareness and information about this link, especially considering studies showing low awareness levels?

As regards improving education and awareness raising among general public, the Commission is working with the IARC on the update the European Code against Cancer to inform people about actions they can take for themselves or their families to reduce their risk of cancer, including alcohol consumption. In addition, a mobile app on cancer prevention aims to further reinforce the awareness raising and spread the messages of the Code.

Learn more about Europe Beating Cancer Plan

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