Non-communicable diseases constitute more than 72% of annual global deaths and are now rightfully receiving increased attention in the global health agenda. However, one of the primary risk factors for non-communicable diseases continues to be neglected: alcohol. Although the alcohol industry uses sophisticated public relations campaigns to maintain this near invisibility within the health agenda, the global health community is also culpable. Global health policy makers do not appreciate the evidence on alcohol, identify and confront interference from the alcohol industry, or prioritise resources, policies, and programmes for alcohol control.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, alcohol, like asbestos and tobacco, is a Group 1 carcinogen and can cause multiple forms of cancer, but particularly breast cancer; health risks are associated with drinking at any degree of consumption. WHO’s 2018 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health estimates that, annually, alcohol is responsible for more than 25% of global deaths in people aged 20–39 years and kills more than 3 million people, the population equivalent of Berlin or Abuja. In 2016, Public Health England found that alcohol is the UK’s leading cause of death in people aged 15–49 years and is a factor in more than 200 health conditions.1
Moreover, studies in the UK, EU, and Australia found that alcohol is, overall, more harmful than all other drugs for both individual consumers and others.2–4 Global alcohol consumption is also rapidly expanding and expected to increase by more than 10% by 2030. This rise is anticipated to be driven by market expansion in key regions, including WHO’s South-East Asia region (46·8% market growth by 2030) and Western Pacific region (33·7% market growth by 2030).5 Accordingly, global policy makers included alcohol control in the Sustainable Development Goals, but often remain unaware of industry interference.