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alcohol health alliance uk

North East calls on Britainís next Government to act on alcohol

Posted 22/03/10

Britain’s next Government has been challenged to turn the tide of alcohol misuse in the North East.

Balance, the North East alcohol office, today (Monday, March 22) issued its election manifesto to the region’s MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates calling on them to take action now to reduce the damage done by drink.

The manifesto calls upon all candidates in the upcoming election to champion a range of measures within their political parties, including a minimum price per unit and reducing the drink drive limit– encouraging each party to place tackling alcohol misuse at the heart of strategies to govern the nation.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, explained: “Alcohol misuse is a big issue which needs to be addressed by whichever party comes to power after the forthcoming election.

“Voters make political judgements based on what an individual party says it will do to tackle issues which are close to their hearts. We know many voters are concerned about crime and disorder, anti-social behaviour and pressure on our health service.

Research carried out in 2009* showed that as a region there is a genuine concern around the role of alcohol on crime and disorder:

“Tackling alcohol misuse is key to addressing these concerns,” said Colin. “This makes alcohol a really big issue and one which all political parties need to be prepared to deal with effectively, should they find themselves in power next term.

“Our manifesto for 2010 includes the priorities we believe that any Government needs to take on board if it is serious about reducing the level of alcohol related harm in the North East. A policy consensus now exists that a series of measures on the affordability, availability and marketing can make a real difference to improve public health, quality of life and community cohesion.”

Balance’s manifesto calls on Government to:

• deal with the problem of alcohol being sold at pocket money prices by introducing a minimum price per unit. The Government’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and the Association of Chief Police Officers have all called for its introduction. By way of an example, the introduction of a 50p per unit limit, as advocated by the CMO, would reduce the annual number of hospital admissions by almost 100,000; reduce crimes by nearly 46,000; and would save an estimated £1billion every year.

• protect our children from the effects of alcohol advertising and sponsorship. Voluntary agreements do not work, as evidenced by a recent BMA report which stated that alcohol advertising and sponsorship particularly affects the onset of drinking amongst young people as well as encouraging increased consumption. The Government cannot hope to compete with the £800m annual marketing spend of the alcohol industry, particularly in the current financial situation. Regulation must be used to address both the content and volume of alcohol advertising.

Provide sufficient funding for specialist alcohol treatment services. The World Health Organisation recommends that 15 per cent of dependent drinkers should receive specialist treatment.

Reduce the drink driving limit so that it is in line with other European countries. That means reducing the blood alcohol limit to 50mg from the current 80mg which would not only reduce accidents but would send a message to all drivers that drink driving will not be tolerated. A British Medical Association paper published in 2008 said that lowering the limit to 50mg could save 65 deaths and 250 other road casualties every year.

Give our local authorities more power to refuse applications for new licenses by allowing them to take public health and ‘need’ into consideration when making critical decisions for their communities. Over the 2007-2009 period there has been a net increase of at least 300 licensed premises in the North East. Many of our local communities do not understand why their elected representatives cannot object to licences on the grounds that the area has enough licensed premises.

The manifesto is supported by Professor Stephen Singleton, Regional Director of Public Health, and Jon Stoddart, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary.

Professor Singleton said: “Alcohol misuse is seriously damaging people and communities in the North East, where we have the highest rate of alcohol specific hospital admissions and more and more people dying from chronic liver disease each year. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Mr Stoddart added: “While illegal drugs tend to get all the headlines, the issue of alcohol misuse presents us with much greater problems right across the whole spectrum of criminality, ranging from minor nuisance, disorder, violence and damage up to rape, organised crime and murder. Whichever Government we see lining up after the next election needs to act and needs to act fast to turn the tide of alcohol misuse.”

The manifesto follows the publication earlier this year of Balance’s regional price survey which demonstrated that alcohol sold for pocket money prices is seriously damaging the health and wealth of the North East.

As part of a worrying trend for super-low prices, the report revealed that a two-litre bottle of cider is available from three of the big four supermarkets for £1.21, or just 14p per unit of alcohol, and is even cheaper at the region’s discount outlets.

Across the North East, lager is being sold at 22p a can, a 70cl bottle of vodka for as little as £6.98 and cans of super strength lager and industrial white cider, which contain the daily safe alcohol limit for an adult male, for less than a loaf of bread.

Selling alcohol at pocket money prices supports the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol, which would link the price of an alcoholic drink to its strength. The report was accompanied by an open letter to Government from the North East’s directors of public health which calls for the introduction of a minimum price.