Alcohol biggest killer, WHO warns

ALCOHOL causes more deaths worldwide than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence, the World Health Organisation has warned.

Yet alcohol-control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite the heavy toll drinking takes on society via road accidents, violence, disease, child-neglect and job absenteeism, the United Nations agency said.

The WHO’s ‘Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health’ said around 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol-related causes — nearly 4% of all deaths worldwide.

“The harmful use of alcohol is especially fatal for younger age groups and alcohol is the world’s leading risk factor for death among males aged 15-59,” the report found.

It expressed alarm at increases in binge drinking. Previous research placed Ireland at the top of the European table for this type of heavy drinking.

“Worldwide, about 11% of drinkers have weekly heavy episodic drinking occasions, with men outnumbering women by four to one,” said the WHO report.

Health ministers from the 193 WHO member states agreed last May to try to curb binge drinking.

The agency said effective ways to curb drinking, especially among young people, are to raise taxes, regulate drink-driving levels and restrict marketing and sports sponsorship.

“Yet, not enough countries use these and other effective policy options to prevent death, disease and injury attributable to alcohol consumption,” the WHO added.

Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland said: “Despite the public commitments in Ireland to reduce alcohol-related harm and consumption, we are almost doing the opposite to the WHO standards.”

She said the Government had made alcohol cheaper and boosted consumption by ‘slashing’ excise duty on drink by around 20% in Budget 2010.

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