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alcohol health alliance uk

Government needs to go further, faster

Posted 25/03/11

The alcohol pledges announced earlier this month make it easy to understand why health organisations, including The Royal College of Physicians and the British Medical Association, found it impossible to support the Government’s Responsibility Deal. It’s an all carrot and no stick approach and it’s not hard to see why it has been so popular with the alcohol industry, which isn’t being asked to make any real concessions.

The fact that industry has agreed to make unit and other health information available is a step in the right direction. However, it is concerning that apart from one exception, there are no clear and firm targets against which to hold this responsibility deal to account.

What’s more, very little about these pledges is new. In fact, the voluntary agreement route has already been tried and has already failed. Currently, just 15% of drinks carry health messages agreed under a protocol between the industry and Government three years ago, which said most labels would comply by 2008. Why do we think the pledges will be any stronger or successful?

If Government is serious about tackling the problems caused by alcohol misuse, it needs to develop meaningful pledges backed by legislation. These would include pledges to reduce availability, restrict alcohol advertising and display, ban quantity discounts and support independent mass media campaigns.

Most importantly, Government needs to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol which would reduce consumption amongst young and heavy drinkers while having a minimal impact on those drinking within Government guidelines. The chancellor missed an opportunity to do just that in last week’s budget. Instead, he confirmed that tax will rise by just 2% above inflation.

This is very much in keeping with banning the sale of alcohol below the price of duty plus VAT, the Government’s preferred method of dealing with alcohol sold at dangerously low prices. Extensive research, set for publication in the next few weeks, proves that these measures will have next to no impact on the price of the most dangerous products, which are being sold for as little as 12p a unit.

Government needs to go further and faster if we are to reduce the damage that alcohol is doing.