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Patients’ associations criticise France’s decision not to raise taxes on alcohol

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The French government on Wednesday (23 August) shelved the idea of increasing tax on alcohol, tabled at the beginning of summer, in a move that pours water on the hopes of French anti-addiction associations.

In July, the French Ministry of the Economy and Finance confirmed to Le Figaro newspaper that a possible tax increase of a few cents on alcohol was under consideration and would be presented as part of the 2024 Social Security budget financing package, expected in September at the National Assembly.

But the government seems to have changed its mind over the summer.

“Concerning the tax, I want to be very clear: there are no plans at all to increase taxes on alcohol,” said French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in an interview with France Bleu on Wednesday.

“There are taxes on alcohol that are updated every year with a ceiling, and we’re not going to change that rule,” Borne stressed.

This was a major disappointment to anti-addiction associations, who saw it as an effective way to combat excessive alcohol consumption and limit health risks.

“Price influences consumption, there’s always a positive effect. Raising taxes is one of the classic levers recommended by the WHO,” Bernard Basset, president of Addictions France, told EURACTIV.

On Wednesday, Amine Benyamina, president of the French Federation of Addictology (F?d?ration fran?aise d’addictologie), on the French news website franceinfo, called this “a big disappointment”.

“We could have had a double success” with “a good measure for both public health and the economy”, he added.

According to a report by the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT) published on Wednesday (2 August), alcohol-related illnesses cost around EUR102 billion in 2019.

For Basset, there is no doubt that the wine lobby has been “effective”. “The government is bowing to an economic lobby to the detriment of public health”, he commented.

But while the government has decided not to tax alcohol, the battle is not yet over. The Social Security Financing Bill has yet to be passed by the National Assembly, where the government has only a relative majority.

The opposition could, therefore, table amendments to include a tax on wines and spirits as early as 2024.

In Brussels, the battle between the wine lobby, public health associations and politicians rages on.

Recently, Ireland obtained the green light from the European Commission to equip wine bottles sold in the country with a health label to warn consumers of adverse health effects.

By May 2026, Irish can read messages such as “alcohol consumption causes liver disease” or “there is a direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers”.

The nutritional value of wine, the number of calories and the volume of alcohol will also have to be more visible to consumers. Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he would be “delighted” if other countries followed suit.

But France, Italy and Spain are not having it. Far from wishing to follow the Irish example, the three countries, which account for 47% of wine bottles sold worldwide, are currently working on a proposal to counter the Irish legislation.

“We consider Ireland’s action to be incorrect because it’s one thing to provide information and encourage moderation, which we think is the right thing to do; it’s quite another to say that a product, no matter how much you consume, is bad for your health,” said Italian Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida (Fr?res d’Italie/CRE).

This statement contradicts WHO recommendations. “When it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health”, said Hans Kluge, Director of WHO Europe, on Wednesday, June 21, at the 2023 EASL Congress, the International Liver Congress, in Vienna.

[Edited by Giedr? Peseckyt?/Alice Taylor]

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