The UK drinks industry has agreed a new package of pledges to help tackle the country’s estimated £21 billion annual cost of alcohol-related damage.
Building on the existing Responsibility Deal, the six new pledges agreed in consultation with the government and industry representatives include a promise to increase the availability of house wines with an abv below 12.5%, as well as listings of lower alcohol or alcohol-free beer in the on-trade.
Other measures will see the creation of local alcohol partnership schemes to combat antisocial behaviour, a commitment to train 10,000 staff by 2016 in responsible alcohol retailing, ensuring that canned carbonated products contain no more than 4 units of alcohol, implementing good practice guidance for responsible alcohol retailing in the off-trade, and a £250,000 investment to fund new school education programmes.
The government welcomed the new measures, with UK Home Secretary Theresa May saying: “Alcohol-fuelled harm costs taxpayers £21 billion a year. It is therefore right that the alcohol industry is taking action to help reduce this burden, without penalising those that drink responsibly.
“The government welcomes the progress the alcohol industry has made so far in responding to the challenge we set them. We now look forward to seeing the positive impact of these pledges and continuing to work with industry to explore what else can be done to tackle alcohol abuse.”
Acknowledging recent progress made in this area, Minister for Public Health Jane Ellison confirmed that the drinks industry had already met an earlier target by achieving 79.3% on its pledge to feature important health information on 80% of labels on shelf by the end of 2013.
WSTA chief executive, Miles Beale described efforts to tackle alcohol related harm as “a key priority” for the drinks industry as he hailed “an unprecedented level of co-operation between retailers” in developing these latest commitments.
“We are pleased that WSTA members have taken a leading role in developing a further set of practical measures designed to tackle the complex problem of alcohol misuse in the UK,” he commented. “These exciting pledges show that by working with industry the government can achieve a great deal as we continue to build a culture of more responsible drinking in the UK.”
Other representatives from the drinks industry offered their support for the pledges and welcomed the government’s recognition of progress being made.
Henry Ashworth, chair of the Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network said: “UK drinks producers and retailers have a strong track record in delivering programmes of voluntary activity to support government in tackling anti-social behaviour caused by alcohol misuse.
“As responsible businesses, we are determined to play our part and have set out a whole new programme of voluntary actions in response to the challenge set by the government. Working in partnership with business is a great way to get positive change happening quickly in towns and cities throughout the UK.”
Outlining activity planned by the UK’s beer sector, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association confirmed: “Representing 95% of the brewing industry and around 20,000 pubs, our members will take action to encourage lower alcohol products in pubs, at events and promote through social media.
“Already, there are some great examples from our members to build on. It shows that government support for partnership delivers real results.“
However responses to the voluntary measures have not been universally positive. Speaking to the Daily Mail, Sir Ian Gilmore, adviser to the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “It is frustrating to see the government continually fail to take the action that is needed to effectively tackle increasing alcohol harms in the UK.”