WHO Launches "Safer" Alcohol Campaign

By Kelly Burch 10/12/18

The campaign outlines steps that governments can take to reduce problem drinking.

silhouette of a man holding a bottle of alcohol

The World Health Organization has launched a campaign outlining high-impact strategies that can help governments address alcohol abuse, in order to work toward the organization’s goal of reducing harmful drinking by 10% worldwide by 2025. 

The campaign, called SAFER, outlines steps that governments can take to reduce problem drinking. Alcohol contributes to 3 million deaths around the world each year, and is the 7th leading cause of premature death and disability according to WHO. 

“The harmful use of alcohol is a major—yet often unaddressed—public health threat,” Dr. Adam Karpati, senior vice president of Public Health Programs at Vital Strategies, a global public health organization, said in a news release. “SAFER provides clear guidance to governments on how to save lives on a large scale. The greatest impact will be achieved by implementing all the SAFER interventions in full.”

Each letter in the acronym stands for a strategy that governments can implement:

S: Strengthen restrictions on alcohol availability

The first step in the plan is to reduce the availability of alcohol. The idea is to establish restrictions to keep alcohol out of the hands of youth and other high-risk groups; this has been proven to cut back on alcohol-related issues. For example, in Brazil the decision to close bars at 11 p.m. led to a 40% reduction in homicide rates. 

A: Advance and enforce drink driving counter measures

One of the most dangerous aspects of alcohol use is driving while intoxicated, so SAFER urges governments to take a stricter approach to combat drunk driving. This includes reducing the legal limit. Lowering the legal limit from 0.08% to 0.05% blood alcohol content could eliminate 18% of crashes caused by drunk driving that result in injury or death. 

F: Facilitate access to screening, brief interventions and treatment

In order to reduce the negative health impacts of alcohol, healthcare providers need to screen people who may be at risk, and help people who have alcohol use disorder access treatment. Offering screenings in a primary care setting can increase access to treatment, and is especially important for pregnant women. 

E: Enforce bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion

People around the globe are constantly exposed to marketing from alcohol companies, which often downplays the negative effects of alcohol. Governments should restrict what advertising is allowed, particularly in places where it reaches young people who should not be drinking.  

R: Raise prices on alcohol through excise taxes and pricing policies

Raising taxes on alcohol and setting minimum prices can make alcohol less affordable to people, thus in theory, reducing the amount that they drink. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.