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Alcohol, Tobacco Pose Equal Burden on Global Health

Thu Feb 3, 2005

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - When it comes to causing death and disability, alcoholic drinks are as bad as tobacco and high blood pressure.

Alcohol is linked to more than 60 different medical conditions, including oral, liver and breast cancers, heart disease, stroke and cirrhosis. It also increases the risk of car accidents, drowning, falls and homicides.

"Overall, 4 percent of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol, which accounts for about as much death and disability globally as tobacco and hypertension," said Professor Robin Room of Stockholm University in Sweden.

By comparison, tobacco accounts for 4.1 percent and high blood pressure 4.4 percent.

"Alcohol is a substantial health problem in the world. It is a particular problem in the developing countries that are well off and in the developed world," he added in an interview with Reuters.

In a review of alcohol and public health published in The Lancet medical journal, Room and his colleagues in Canada and the United States assessed the problems caused by alcohol and ways of controlling alcohol abuse.

They said alcohol poses problems not only to drinkers but also to people around them by increasing the risk of violence and injury. How much is consumed and the patterns of drinking have an impact on alcohol-related illnesses and deaths.

Tobacco may cause more deaths, but they are generally in older people compared with deaths from alcohol. But Room said when the two are compared on the basis of years of life lost, they are about equivalent.

Evidence has shown that increasing the price of alcohol and limiting its availability would lower consumption and risks to health.

The researchers estimated that a 10 percent rise in British alcohol prices could reduce deaths from alcohol dependence and poisoning by 28.8 percent in men and 37.4 percent in women.

Room and his colleagues also suggested there should be an international agreement on alcohol marketing, similar to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

"The trade is global and the solutions cannot be only local," he said. "In order to facilitate solutions that reach beyond the national level you must think about an international agreement."

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