SWA casts doubt on UK alcohol proposals

The chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, David Frost, has questioned the effectiveness of several measures proposed recently by a group of UK Members of Parliament to tackle alcohol misuse.

David Frost, chief executive of the SWA

David Frost, chief executive of the SWA

In a report published earlier this month, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse warned of a “national crisis” as it put forward 10 proposals, including health warnings on all drinks labels, a minimum unit price and lower limit for drivers.

While agreeing that “misuse of alcohol causes significant harm to individuals and to society, and that we all have a responsibility to help tackle that,” Frost argued that the manifesto overlooked significant progress that is already being made in this area.

He highlighted a decline by “almost a fifth” in the UK’s alcohol consumption over the last decade, as well as a fall in alcohol-related deaths and alcohol-related crime since 2008.

Although broadly in favour of the APPG’s recommendations for increased funding, better training and sobriety orders, which he noted the drinks industry already supports, Frost suggested that other proposals “are perhaps more complex than the APPG allows.”

For example, he continued, “A single minister responsible for alcohol-related hard sounds attractive, but in reality almost nowhere in government is there a single minister responsible for any single thing.” In the case of alcohol issues, Frost noted the need for Home Office involvement for tackling crime, while HMRC would be required to deal with cases involving illicit alcohol or duty evasion.

In response to a proposal that the Government should enforce tougher alcohol marketing regulation, Frost emphasised the industry’s track record on self-regulation, as seen in measures announced last month.

“Government regulation is always there as a back-up if the industry ever behaves irresponsibly,” he noted; “but since we do not there is no need to require legislative enforcement.”

Turning to the recommendation that health warnings should be placed on all alcoholic drink labels, Frost highlighted that “80% of labels already have such a health warning.”

He also insisted on a “fundamental difference” between the drinks industry and tobacco trade, which is already required to carry health warnings, as he maintained: “alcohol, when consumed responsibly and in moderation, can be part of a normal, healthy lifestyle.”

Finally, Frost pointed to the SWA’s longstanding opposition to minimum unit pricing for alcohol as he acknowledged the need for further discussion on the proposals put forward by the APPG.

Above all, he stressed: “Although our views differ on some of the means, we agree on the ends – reducing the harm done by alcohol.”

 

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