Lorena Rodriguez Osiac
Few elements are more detrimental to health than alcohol, which in turn is associated with the risk of numerous diseases for individuals and society as a whole. Alcohol consumption is one of the main risk factors for death and disability, as reflected in the Years of Healthy Life Lost (AVISA) indicator. In Chile, alcohol was associated with 4 of the 7 main causes of AVISA.
Scientific evidence links alcohol consumption to at least 10 cancers (oral, liver, lung, breast, esophagus, stomach, laryngo, pharynx, colorectum, pancreas). Alcohol has also been linked to risk of high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, immune system impairment, reflux, gastritis, pancreas damage, dementia, oral health problems, and depression. Alcoholic beverage consumption has also been linked to traffic accidents, unemployment, financial problems from excessive drinking, discrimination, stigma, and social isolation.
The evidence on the damage to individual and societal health is strong and robust. From a public health standpoint, alcohol consumption is advised against, as safe alcohol intake has not been established.
Protecting people’s health is the responsibility of the whole society. Public policy is the tool to achieve this, which explains why many countries, including Chile, are implementing policies and laws to protect people from the harmful effects of alcohol.
Multiple international experiences have shown that strategies to prevent drinking through communication and social marketing are not effective in raising awareness about drinking. So far, the only effective strategy to reduce alcohol intake, and thus the damage it causes, at the population level has been proven to be structural measures that reduce the availability and access (physically and economically) of alcoholic beverages, such as taxes or minimum Prices, restrictions on sales by age (effectively controlled), place and time of distribution, and prohibition of advertising of alcoholic beverages.
Chile recently amended Law No. 19,925 of 2004, dealing with the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages; and Law No. 21,363 of 2021, establishing rules for the marketing and advertising of alcoholic beverages, incorporating new labels for alcoholic beverage containers and new restrictions on their advertising. While we value these advances, we must also recognize that they are not enough. In fact, neither the new labels nor the restrictions on advertising prove that any amount of alcohol consumption is harmful to people’s health. Furthermore, the regulation only targets certain groups of people and uses the phrase “harmful use of alcohol impairs health” as if it were harmless use.
On the other hand, the public discussion that has suggested tax exemptions for certain alcoholic products in Chile ignores the evidence that alcohol is harmful to health and that the most effective measure to reduce consumption is to raise taxes. . Increasing taxes on alcohol should not be understood as a measure to allow the Treasury to collect more taxes, but rather as a public health measure to protect the population. Additionally, higher revenues from higher taxes on alcohol could be used to offset the eventual impact of tax increases on the population associated with wine production.
We call on those responsible for making laws and regulations in our country to consider the compelling evidence of alcohol’s social, economic and health damage. The level of consumption that minimizes these consequences is zero. In other words, there is no such thing as safe drinking.