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Chief medic criticises alcohol retailers

The UK’s chief medical officer has slammed the “irresponsible” methods used by retailers to sell alcoholic drinks as she highlighted their link to health problems and crime.

Sally Davies, the UK's chief medical officer
Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer

Dame Sally Davies, the UK government’s principal medical adviser, used her annual report to express frustration at the decision last year to drop plans for minimum unit pricing – a move that was widely welcomed by the drinks industry – as part of wider concerns about the way alcohol is sold and marketed.

“I deplore the methods which retailers use to entice consumers to purchase ever-greater quantities of alcohol,” she said, pointing to examples such as multi-buy offer and arguing that too many on-trade outlets fail to include the 125ml wine measure on their menu, despite it being mandatory to offer this serve.

Davies echoed the claim made earlier this week by Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol and drugs at Public Health England, that UK per capita alcohol consumption had risen rapidly since the 1950s, despite acknowledging that levels have declined in recent years.

Noting the prevalence of drunken behaviour in soap operas, films and pop music lyrics “with negative consequences rarely shown”, she complained: “Drinking to excess is not ‘normal behaviour’, and portraying it as such is irresponsible.”

As well as highlighting the link between alcohol consumption and health problems such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer, Davies cited alcohol as a factor in 47% of violent crime.

“Despite these clear health and societal risks, retailers continue to sell alcohol using methods which I consider to be irresponsible,” she maintained.

While welcoming the government’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT from next month, Davies added: “I note that modelled data suggests that charging a minimum of 45p per unit of alcohol should be more effective in reducing premature deaths.”

Looking ahead, she confirmed that “an expert group” is currently reviewing evidence with a view to releasing new guidelines next year on the maximum quantity of alcohol that it is safe to consume.

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