Health groups call for ‘radical steps’ on alcohol

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A minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol should be introduced for ‘all alcohol sales’ along with prohibition of ‘all alcohol advertising and sponsorship’, according to a new report from the Alcohol Health Alliance, British Liver Trust and University of Stirling. Health first – an evidence based alcohol strategy for the UK also wants to see ‘at least’ one third of every alcohol label given over to ‘an evidence based health warning’ and for the sale of alcohol in shops to be restricted to specific times of the day and designated areas.

The document is supported by a range of organisations including Alcohol Concern, Cancer Research UK and ten royal colleges, and among its other recommendations are for the tax on every alcohol product to be ‘proportionate to the volume of alcohol it contains’, a tightening of the drink driving limit and the development of guidelines for ‘the portrayal of alcohol in television and film’. Public health and community safety should be given priority in all alcohol policy making, it states, with no involvement by drinks companies in policy development or health promotion.

‘The impact of drinking on public health and community safety is so great that radical steps are needed to change our relationship with alcohol,’ says the report. ‘We need to imagine a society where low or no alcohol consumption is the norm, drunkenness is socially unacceptable and town centres are safe and welcoming places for everyone to use. Our vision is for a safer, healthier and happier world where the harm caused by alcohol is minimised.’

A 50p minimum price would be ‘excellent news for everyone – except those who profit from the excessive drinking which causes so many of the health and social problems this country faces’, said the Faculty of Public Health, while the British Medical Association (BMA) called the government’s plans for a 45p minimum ‘too timid’ in its response to the Home Office alcohol strategy consultation. ‘Our members witness first hand the damaging effects of alcohol, and have repeatedly called for stronger action to reduce affordability and availability,’ said BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson. 

Meanwhile a report from the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) found that youth alcohol consumption in the US is dominated by a ‘relatively small number of alcohol brands’. While the top 25 US brands – including Budweiser, Smirnoff and Jack Daniel’s – accounted for almost half of youth alcohol consumption, adult consumption was ‘nearly twice as widely spread among different brands’, meaning that further studies were necessary to ‘explore the association between exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing efforts and drinking behaviour in young people’.

A report from the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health has also found that alcohol consumption in England could be higher than previously thought, with self-reported alcohol consumption accounting for far less than the amount of alcohol actually sold.

‘We don’t know who consumes almost half of all the alcohol sold in England,’ said lead author Sadie Boniface. The gap between ‘what is seen in the surveys’ and sales had potentially ‘enormous implications for public health’, she said. With under-reporting taken into account, approximately half of men and women could be classed as ‘binge drinkers’, according to the study, which is published in the European Journal of Public Health. ‘What’s needed now is a detailed understanding of whether some people under-report their consumption more than others,’ Boniface stated. 

Health first – an evidence based alcohol strategy for the UK at www.stir.ac.uk/management/about/social-marketing

Brand-specific consumption of alcohol among underage youth in the United States at onlinelibrary.wiley.com

How is alcohol consumption affected if we account for under-reporting? A hypothetical scenario at www.oxfordjournals.org