MPs’ report calls for radical overhaul of alcohol policy

08 January 2010

The Health Committee warns in a report published today that the drinks industry and supermarkets hold more power over government alcohol policies than expert health professionals.

It says the drinks industry is dependent on hazardous and harmful drinkers for three-quarters of its sales and if people drank responsibly, alcohol sales would plummet by 40 per cent.

The Committee calls for:

  • the introduction of minimum pricing
  • a rise in the duty on spirits and industrial white cider
  • tighter and totally independent regulation of alcohol promotion
  • vastly improved alcohol treatment services
  • better early detection and intervention
  • a mandatory labelling scheme for alcoholic drinks
  • much better use of expert advice

The report flatly rejects as a myth the suggestion that minimum pricing would unfairly affect moderate drinkers: at 40p per unit it would cost a moderate drinker (6 units per week) 11p per week more than at present, and a woman drinking the maximum 15 units per week could buy her weekly total of alcohol for six pounds.

Three times as much alcohol per head is drunk as in the mid 20th century, 30-40,000 deaths every year could be alcohol related and liver disease rates are soaring. The total cost of alcohol to society has been put at £55bn.

Kevin Barron MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"I agree with the Chief Medical Officer that introducing unit pricing will reduce binge drinking. As the report points out, it will also help traditional pubs in their battle against cut price supermarket offers.

"The facts about alcohol misuse are shocking. Successive governments have failed to tackle the problem and it is now time for bold government.

"Even small reductions in the number of people misusing alcohol could save the NHS millions.

"What is required is fundamental cultural change brought about by evidence-based policies; only this way are we likely to reduce the dangerous numbers of young people drinking their lives away."

The report urges the duty on spirits to be returned in stages to the same percentage of average earnings as in the 1980s (11 per cent) and a lower duty on weak beer.

Early detection and intervention is important in both health and financial terms and the Committee recommends these could easily be built into existing initiatives, but first of all the current dire state of alcohol treatment services must be addressed.

Health information is important but does not change behaviour, and the government spend of £17.6m on alcohol awareness for 2009/10 was far outweighed by the £600-800m spent by the drinks industry promoting alcohol.

The report also calls for the 'feeble' licensing and enforcement regime to be strengthened.

Image: iStockphoto

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Health services and medicine, Health education and preventive medicine, Parliament, Commons news, Committee news, Alcoholism

Share this page