Time to publish ‘evidence based’ alcohol strategy, government told

A new government alcohol strategy needs to ‘lead the way internationally’ in reducing the damage caused by alcohol misuse, according to a document from the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross Party Parliamentary Group and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Alcohol Harm.

The Alcohol Charter – which is published in consultation with Alcohol Concern, Alcohol Research UK, the Institute for Alcohol Studies and the Alcohol Health Alliance, and backed by 30 other organisations including Cancer Research, Blenheim and Adfam – says a new strategy is essential to protect public health, improve support and address alcohol-related crime.

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It wants to see the government ‘outline concrete measures’ to moderate harmful drinking and address England’s million-plus annual alcohol-related hospital admissions. Without action, alcohol is set to cost the NHS £17bn over the next five years and lead to 135,000 cancer deaths over the next 20, it states.

An effective alcohol strategy will need to tackle the increased availability of cheap alcohol, provide proper support for dependent and non-dependent drinkers, and ‘empower the public to make fully informed decisions’ about consumption. It should also be based on the ‘evidence of what works to reduce alcohol harm, as outlined in the PHE alcohol evidence review’, it says. [DDN’s report on the PHE review is here.]

Among the specific measures called for are the introduction of minimum pricing ‘following the lead of other home nations’, adding a 1 per cent levy to alcohol duties to fund treatment, and mandating local councils to provide a ring-fenced resource for treatment and early intervention services. Councils also need to address the issue of age inequalities in existing services and provide adequate provision for people with complex needs, it stresses.

The charter also calls for statutory minimum requirements for labelling, including health warnings, tighter restrictions on marketing – also enforced by statutory regulation – and a government-funded programme of health campaigns ‘without industry involvement’. PHE’s recent partnership with Drinkaware for the ‘Drink Free Days’ campaign proved controversial and led to the resignation of Professor Sir Ian Gilmore as co-chair of PHE’s alcohol leadership board (DDN, October, page 5).

‘With dozens of alcohol-related deaths across the UK every day, we decided that rather than wait ages for the government’s alcohol strategy, we should promote a programme of actions which could reduce harm levels dramatically,’ said co-chair of the Drugs, Alcohol & Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group, Mary Glindon MP.

‘This Alcohol Charter is an important document which outlines many policies that the AHA has been calling for,’ added Prof Gilmore in his capacity as Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) chair. ‘The government needs to ensure that the upcoming alcohol strategy includes evidence-based policies which work to reduce alcohol harm and tackle the increased availability of super cheap alcohol. The best ways to do that are by introducing minimum unit pricing in England – which we already have in Scotland and will soon have in Wales – and increasing alcohol duty.’

Alcohol charter available here

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