Experts call for UK wide tough action on alcohol pricing

Alcohol Strategy Report
Alcohol Strategy Report
1 March 2013

More than 70 health organisations (PDF) from across the UK have backed a new independent alcohol strategy calling for the UK Government to prioritise Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP), amongst a set of key policies aimed at curbing the nation's drink problem.

Published today by the University of Stirling the report, Health First: An evidence-based alcohol strategy for the UK (PDF) sets out for the first time a series of no-nonsense recommendations to tackle the harm caused by excess drinking across the UK. 

The strategy was developed by a group of experts independent from government and the alcohol industry under the auspices of the Alcohol Health Alliance. There was unanimous agreement from the 70 organisations that a 50p minimum price per unit of alcohol sold should be the priority.

The group urges the UK government to adopt the measure to avoid England, Northern Ireland and Wales being left behind Scotland, which has already passed legislation for a minimum unit price of 50p per unit.

Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “Governments across the UK have begun to take action to reduce the harm that alcohol can cause. This action is very welcome but needs to go further. In developing this strategy, we considered the best available evidence about appropriate policies and interventions that are needed both to reduce drinking levels in individuals and reduce the damage to families and communities that alcohol can cause. The report provides a blueprint for action, now and in the future.”

Health First describes the direct effects of excessive drinking in the UK today and raises concern for future generations given levels of drinking amongst UK teenagers are significantly higher than the European average. The strategy outlines a comprehensive list of policy recommendations that together will help to protect children and vulnerable groups from alcohol harm. Alongside MUP, tougher restrictions on alcohol marketing are called for, as evidence shows that exposure to young people leads them to drink at an earlier age and to drink more than they otherwise would. The report also calls for empowerment of licensing authorities to tackle alcohol problems by controlling the overall availability of alcohol in their jurisdiction.

Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Stirling, who led the development of the strategy, said: “There is strong support for this strategy not just from the numerous organisations who have endorsed it, but also from the public. A UK survey that we conducted with Yougov showed that the majority of people think our relationship with alcohol is unhealthy and are aware of the significant impact it has on health, crime and disorder and the NHS.  We found support for introducing warning labels on bottles, minimum unit pricing, restrictions on advertising and access to support and treatment for people addicted to alcohol. There is clearly an appetite for change, and our report sets out what needs to be done.”

Backing the strategy, British Liver Trust Chief Executive Andrew Langford said: “The UK is seeing a year on year increase in alcohol related deaths especially liver disease and what makes this worse is that average age of people dying from liver disease is decreasing. We must all do something now to start to tackle this avoidable ‘epidemic’ and reverse a trend that sees well over ten thousand people a year dying prematurely because of alcohol-related harm.”

Professor Gerard Hastings and Professor Linda Bauld discussing the strategy

Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK


Background information on minimum unit pricing

The Scottish Government has passed legislation for a minimum unit alcohol price of 50p per unit. There is currently a legal challenge to this being led by the Scotch Whisky Association and a ruling is expected at some point in the Spring. The measure is also being discussed at EU level. The UK Government recently closed a consultation (6th February) on whether to introduce a minimum unit price in England and Wales. The suggested amount in the consultation document was 45p per unit. The Government response to the consultation is expected at some point before May.

Recommendations

The top ten recommendations included in the strategy are:

  1. A minimum price of at least 50p per unit of alcohol should be introduced for all alcohol sales, together with a mechanism to regularly review and revise this price.
  2. At least one third of every alcohol product label should be given over to an evidence-based health warning specified by an independent regulatory body.
  3. The sale of alcohol in shops should be restricted to specific times of the day and designated areas. No alcohol promotion should occur outside these areas.
  4. The tax on every alcohol product should be proportionate to the volume of alcohol it contains. To incentivise the development and sale of lower strength products, the rate of taxation should increase with product strength.
  5. Licensing legislation should be comprehensively reviewed. Licensing authorities must be empowered to tackle alcohol-related harm by controlling the total availability of alcohol in their jurisdiction.
  6. All alcohol advertising and sponsorship should be prohibited. In the short term, alcohol advertising should only be permitted in newspapers and other adult press. Its content should be limited to factual information about brand, provenance and product strength.
  7. An independent body should be established to regulate alcohol promotion, including product and packaging design, in the interests of public health and community safety.
  8. The legal limit for blood alcohol concentration for drivers should be reduced to 50mg/100ml.
  9. All health and social care professionals should be trained to routinely provide early identification and brief alcohol advice to their clients.
  10. People who need support for alcohol problems should be routinely referred to specialist alcohol services for comprehensive assessment and appropriate treatment.

UK Public Opinion poll results

Health First describes the direct effects of excessive drinking in the UK today:

  • Regular drinking at hazardous levels by 26% of men and 17% of women has seen the number of alcohol-related deaths in the UK double from 4,024 in 1992 to 8,790 in 2010.
  • Liver disease, which is closely linked to alcohol consumption, is currently the only major cause of death and illness on the increase in the UK (it is decreasing in other European countries).
  • Alcohol is linked to crime and disorder, with 44% of all violent incidents and 37% of domestic violence incidents committed by people who have been drinking.

Health First includes findings from a public opinion survey conducted by Yougov in June 2012. 2,075 adults participated and the results were weighted to be representative of the adult population of the UK. 61% of respondents said that people in the UK have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Respondents said it affected the following ‘a great deal or a fair amount’: health (88%); disorderly or antisocial behaviour (92%); costs of the NHS (91%); and the costs of policing (89%). Full results from the survey are included in the strategy report.

About the Alcohol Health Alliance UK

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK brings together thirty-two organisations whose mission is to reduce the damage caused to health by alcohol misuse. Members include medical bodies, charities and alcohol health campaigners. AHA UK works together to:

  • highlight the rising levels of alcohol-related health harm
  • propose evidence-based solutions to reduce this harm
  • influence decision makers to take positive action to address the damage caused by alcohol misuse.

Members of the Alliance:
Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Action on Addiction, Alcohol Concern, Alcohol Focus Scotland, Balance North East, British Association for the Study of the Liver, British Liver Trust, British Medical Association, British Society of Gastroenterology, Centre for Mental Health, College of Emergency Medicine, Drink Wise North West, Faculty of Dental Surgery, Faculty of Occupational Medicine, Faculty of Public Health, Institute of Alcohol Studies, Medical Council on Alcohol, National Addiction Centre, National Heart Forum, National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Royal College of Anaesthetists, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh, Royal College of Physicians London, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Royal Society for Public Health, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, Scottish Intercollegiate Group on Alcohol

More information about the AHA UK

© University of Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland UK • Telephone +44 1786 473171 • Scottish Charity No SC011159
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