Economic burden of alcohol could be almost 3 per cent of GDP, says PHE

Combining minimum unit pricing (MUP) with increased alcohol taxation would lead to both ‘substantial’ reductions in alcohol-related harm and increases in government revenue, according to a wide-ranging review by Public Health England (PHE). Plans to introduce MUP were shelved by the coalition government on the grounds that there was not enough ‘concrete evidence’ to justify their implementation (DDN, August 2013, page 4) and are subject to an ongoing legal challenge in Scotland (DDN, December, page 4).

The economic burden of ‘health, social and economic alcohol-related harm’ has been underestimated and is now thought to be between 1.3 and 2.7 per cent of annual GDP, states The public health burden of alcohol and the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of alcohol control policies. Although it acknowledges recent declines in both alcohol sales and drinking levels, as a nation ‘we are still drinking too much’, it says, with more than 1m alcohol-related hospital admissions per year and a 42 per cent increase in alcohol sales between 1980 and 2008.

More than 10m people in England are drinking at a level that increases the risk of health harms, it continues, with 5 per cent of the heaviest drinkers accounting for a third of all alcohol consumed. Alcohol now causes more years of life lost to the workforce than the ten most common cancers combined, and is the leading cause of death among 15 to 49-year-olds. Deaths from liver disease have seen a 400 per cent increase since 1970, ‘in stark contrast to much of Western Europe’, while in England the average age at death of those dying from an alcohol-specific cause is 54.3 years, compared to the average age of death from all causes at 77.6 years.

‘The harm alkevin-fentoncohol causes is much wider than just on the individual drinker,’ said PHE’s national director of health and wellbeing, Professor Kevin Fenton (pictured).

‘Excessive alcohol consumption can harm children, wreck families, impact on workplace colleagues and can be a burden and drain on the NHS and economy. It hits poor communities the hardest. As a nation we are drinking more alcohol than we did in the past and there are more than one million alcohol-related hospital admissions a year, half of which occur among the most deprived groups.’

Industry body the Portman Group, however, said that the report did not ‘contain any new policy ideas, nor does it fully reflect the significant declines in harmful drinking in the last decade’.

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