New health guidelines outlining 25 moves to reduce risks to health – covering the period from pre-conception to the end of life – have been criticised by doctors for not going far enough to reduce drinking.
Nine senior public health doctors said proposals against alcohol-related diseases were “cosmetic” and that the government was “under the influence of the alcohol lobby.”
Called the Stratégie nationale de santé, brings together health policies and social welfare finance, into a single policy from parliament down to local level.
It has four key targets: health risks linked to pollutants and toxins, reducing exposure to infectious risks; tackling chronic diseases and their consequences, and adapting the health system to today’s “demographic, epidemiological and societal challenges”.
Health professionals broadly welcomed the measures, especially as €400million of funding was promised over five years. Most of the proposals were preventive measures and some, such as vaccinating children against 11 diseases, had been previously announced. Doctors said others, such as spreading the present 20 compulsory medical check-ups for under- sixes across the first 18 years made sense.
The check-up for 15 and 16 year olds, for example, will now include a full ear test and warnings about the dangers of loud music for hearing. Helping people give up smoking by allowing the full repayment of the cost of nicotine substitutes, something which has been proposed for 20 years, was also widely welcomed. Anti-tobacco prevention will include targeting residents of old-age homes who smoke, in a bid to reduce the number who end their lives carting oxygen bottles around with them. At the other end of the age range, women thinking of having a baby will be encouraged to ensure they take enough vitamin B9 (folic acid), as a lack has been linked to spinal deformities in one in 1,000 babies.
Other measures include the confirmation that pharmacies will be able to vaccinate people against flu from 2019, after the success of trial programmes, and changes to the laws banning cannabis consumption.
The later will remove the threat of prison and instead impose a system of fines linked with information on drug dangers. Another part of the plan will encourage people to take first aid classes, with a target of 80% of the population to be trained.
The proposals warn about the dangers of alcohol addiction and the health risk and add that there is also a financial cost of €15billion a year (as against €20.4bn for obesity and €16.6bn for tobacco) along with 49,000 deaths a year linked to alcohol.
Saying virtually all 17-year-olds had drunk alcohol, with 12% regular drinkers, it warned of the risks of excessive drinking and said there would be tolérance zéro for sales of alcohol and tobacco to minors plus increased advertising aimed to get students to cut down.
Health Secretary Agnès Buzyn, who had earlier called for strong action to cut alcohol consumption, refused to change the slogan ‘Alcohol abuse harms health’ for a stronger one, ‘Alcohol harms health’ as had been demanded by the nine doctors involved in general health and addiction.
They wanted the harder slogan used on all drink labels and compared the 49,000 alcohol- linked deaths with the 33,000 from gunshot wounds in the US and said: “The time for calls for moderation is long past.”
In a press statement, they said recent studies had shown for some people, even one glass of alcohol per day could have detrimental effects on health. They also called for calorie details on bottles of alcohol, including the equivalent in grams of sugar, banning adverts implying moderate consumption is acceptable, banning sale to minors and taxing the level of pure alcohol in a drink.
The 1991 loi Evin already bans alcohol adverts on TV and in cinemas and regulates advertising on French websites but is hotly contested, especially with regard to festivals and other drinks firm events.
Crozes-Hermitage winemaker Alain Graillot, president of wine defence group Académie du Vin de France, said it was a “storm in a teacup. We can’t deny wine is alcohol but there is a big difference between enjoying good wine and binge drinking, which is bad for the health.
“Responsible drinking of wine is probably one of the best ways to prevent binge drinking as it carries a cultural aspect. “As an industry we do not promote consumption: we are banned from doing so by law and that is not a problem for me. France’s thousands of individual vignerons do no more than put their terroir in a glass for the pleasure it brings.”