Health lobby calls for radical measures to tackle alcohol harm

Health lobbyists have called for a raft of strict measures including advertising restrictions and minimum unit pricing to tackle the “hidden health crisis” of alcohol-related harm.

The Commission on Alcohol Harm, composed of MPs, peers and health experts, said the government needed to address the “hidden health crisis” of alcohol harm and the damage it did to families.

The chairwoman, Baroness Ilora Finlay said: “Alcohol harm impacts us all – in families, our communities and throughout society. For too long, the onus has been on individuals, with drinkers urged to ‘drink responsibly’.

“We need to finally acknowledge the true scale of the harm caused by alcohol, which goes far beyond individuals who drink, and put the responsibility squarely with the harmful product itself.”

Among the restrictions it wanted to see introduced were minimum unit pricing and restrictions on advertising and marketing, including ending sport sponsorships.

The commission added that the situation had been made “more urgent” by the pandemic and added the dire warning that the full impact of lockdown on people’s health “will become clear over time”.

This flies in the face of a report by Nielsen, however, that the UK’s overall consumption of alcohol has actually declined during the lockdown while many other reports have shown consumption to have stayed the same or slightly declined during this time.

Sales of alcohol by value have risen during the 17 weeks to 11 July 2020 but volume has declined, in large part due to the closure o the on-trade.

The Portman Group issued a rebuttal to the claims pointing out that since 2004 the recorded annual consumption of alcohol in the UK had fallen by 13%, while the proportion of binge drinkers fell 20% between 2007 and 2017.

Underage drinking in England fell 73% between 2006 and 2014, alcohol-related violent crime in England & Wales has declined 47% since 2009/10 and by half in Scotland in the past decade.

Drink driving accidents have decreased by 32% since 2008 and the number of casualties is down by 33%. The number of fatal accidents and deaths meanwhile is down 40% in the same period.

As for advertising, the Advertising Standards Authority has reported that children’s exposure to alcohol advertising has more than halved the last decade.

Portman Group Chief Executive John Timothy said: “There is little evidence to support the need for the radical measures the AHA would like to see. The UK is on an evolving journey in its relationship with alcohol and has made major strides over the past 20 years. Almost four in five UK adults either choose not to drink or stay within the CMOs’ low risk guidelines. Underage drinking is also on a consistent downward trend and almost all measures of alcohol-related harm are in decline.

“The small minority of people that persistently misuse alcohol need targeted support to break the damaging cycle of dependency. That is a difficult but important task that has the industry’s full support. But it cannot be used to justify a tranche of new measures that would disproportionately penalise ordinary men and women who enjoy a drink and do so responsibly.”

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