Health First: An evidence-based alcohol strategy for the UK

Will Anderson, Sir Ian Gilmore, Linda Bauld, Mark Bellis, Katherine A Brown, Colin Drummond, Evelyn Gillan, Gerard Hastings, Eluned Hughes, Calum Irving, Hazel Parsons, Hadas Altwarg, Andrew Langford, Anne Ludbrook, Richard Purves, Martine Stead

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Abstract / Description of output

Alcohol is taken for granted in the UK today. It is easy to get hold of, increasingly affordable, advertised everywhere and accepted by many as an integral part of daily life. Yet, despite this, the great majority of the population recognise the harm that alcohol causes. They believe that drinking damages health, drives anti social behaviour, harms children and families and creates huge costs for the NHS and the Police. They are right. Every year in the UK, there are thousands of deaths and over a million hospital admissions related to drinking. More than two in five (44%) violent crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol, as are 37% of domesti c violence incidents. One fifth of all violent crime occurs in or near pubs and clubs and 45% of adults avoid town centres at night because of drunken behaviour. The personal, social and economic cost of alcohol has been estimated to be up to £55bn for England and £7.5bn for Scotland. None of this should be taken for granted. The impact of drinking on public health and community safety is so great that radical steps are needed to change our relationship with alcohol. We need to imagine a society where low or no alcohol consumpti on is the norm, drunkenness is socially unacceptable and town centres are safe and welcoming places for everyone to use. Our vision is for a safer, healthier and happier world where the harm caused by alcohol is minimised. This vision is achievable. But only if we tackle the primary drivers of alcohol consumption. The evidence is clear: the most effective way to reduce the harm from alcohol is to reduce the affordability, availability and attractiveness of alcohol products. It is not enough to limit the damage once people are drunk, dependent, ill or dying. We need to intervene earlier in order to reduce consumption across the entire population. The tools are available. The ‘four Ps' of the marketing mix - price, product, promotion and place - are used by alcohol producers and retailers to increase their sales of alcohol. They can also be used by government to reduce alcohol sales, alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. Alcohol taxes are an effective public health measure as they raise prices and suppress demand. However, if they do not keep pace with both inflation and incomes, alcohol products will become more affordable over time. This has been the case in the UK. Deep discounting by retailers has also driven down the price of alcohol and encouraged heavy drinkers to maintain dangerous levels of consumption. These problems need to be tackled by a combinati on of more effective fiscal policy and controls on pricing and discounting. Alcohol products are an extraordinary anomaly. Unlike most food products, they are both remarkably harmful and excepti onally lightly regulated. As with other toxic products, the product label ought to communicate the content of the product and the risks of its consumpti on. Regulation should drive out products that appeal to young people while also incentivising the development and sale of lower strength products. The pervasive marketing of alcohol products in the UK is indefensible. Current restrictions are woefully inadequate: children and young people are regularly exposed to alcohol adverti sing in both old and new media. Only a complete ban on all alcohol advertising and sponsorship will make a lasting diff erence. Licensing practice in the UK is out of date. The focus on pubs and bars has allowed shops and supermarkets to become the dominant players in alcohol sales. Consequently, alcohol is now more available than it has ever been. This has driven pre-loading: getting drunk on cheap, shop-bought alcohol before heading out to late-opening night life. Licensing must focus on public health and seek to control the overall availability of alcohol as well as the effects of drunkenness. Beyond these populati on-level approaches, many more targeted measures are needed to reduce alcohol-related harm. Early interventi on by health and social care professionals is an important and underexploited opportunity to prevent problems developing. Stronger drink driving measures are also required. All these measures are needed. Together, they provide a template for an integrated and comprehensive strategy to tackle the harm from alcohol in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherBritish Liver Trust
ISBN (Print)978-1-908063-12-0
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Alcohol
  • health
  • marketing
  • alcohol policy
  • licensing
  • alcohol treatment
  • alcohol early intervention
  • drink driving
  • alcohol taxation
  • alcohol pricing


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