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Alcohol-attributable cancer deaths cost European economies billions in lost productivity

13.04.2023 - A recent study conducted by Rumgay, H., Ortega-Ortega, M., Sharp, L., Lunet, N., & Soerjomataram, I. (2023) and published in Cancer Epidemiology reveals that alcohol consumption led to more than 23,300 premature cancer deaths in the EU, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK in 2018, resulting in €4.58 billion in lost productivity. Each death cost €196,000 on average. The research highlights the substantial economic burden of alcohol-related cancer deaths and adds further impetus for governments to implement cost-effective policies to reduce alcohol consumption.

The study found significant disparities between European countries in alcohol-attributable cancer deaths and productivity losses. On the positive side, Malta (0.001% of GDP), Luxembourg (0.008%), and Norway and Sweden (both 0.011%) had the lowest costs of productivity lost as a share of national GDP. This is because these countries have managed to maintain relatively lower levels of alcohol consumption, which has contributed to their lower burden of alcohol-related cancer deaths. On the negative side, countries like Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Portugal experienced the highest cost of productivity lost as a share of national GDP, ranging between 0.045% and 0.069%. These countries also had the highest rate of premature cancer death attributable to alcohol. The higher burden of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in these countries highlights the urgent need for effective alcohol control policies and interventions to reduce societal costs and improve public health.

Alcohol-attributable cancer mortality accounted for 0.027% of the total GDP in the EU, plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK. However, these findings underestimate the total loss of productivity due to alcohol-attributable cancer deaths, as they do not account for losses in unpaid employment, temporary work absences, or reduced working capacity due to cancer symptoms or treatment.

The study's results provide a new perspective on the alcohol-attributable cancer burden and support the need for prioritizing alcohol and cancer control measures. This economic assessment complements cost-effectiveness analyses conducted to set priorities in alcohol control, such as policies proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as part of their 'best buys' for tackling non-communicable diseases. The most cost-effective policies include increasing excise taxes and enforcing restrictions on purchasing availability and marketing.

As part of Europe's Beating Cancer Plan, the EU Commission has committed to reviewing EU legislation on alcohol taxation and marketing to young people. Other WHO-recommended alcohol policy strategies include minimum unit pricing, adding cancer warning labels to alcohol products, and providing brief advice to patients in primary care.

The study emphasizes the need to implement cost-effective policies to reduce alcohol consumption and prevent alcohol-attributable cancer deaths, which could result in significant economic benefits for society.

Source: Rumgay, H., Ortega-Ortega, M., Sharp, L., Lunet, N., & Soerjomataram, I. (2023). The cost of premature death from cancer attributable to alcohol: Productivity losses in Europe in 2018. Cancer Epidemiology, 84, 102365.

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