Alcohol strategy 'ignores health impacts'

Government needs to change the focus of its alcohol strategy, the committee said
Government needs to change the focus of its alcohol strategy, the committee said.

By Cassie Chambers

The government's alcohol strategy is misguided, a committee of MPs said today.

Calling the health impacts of alcohol "insidious and pervasive", the Commons' health committee warned that the current plan focuses on maintaining public order at the cost of ignoring individuals' well-being.

"The main focus of the strategy is binge drinking and its consequences for anti-social behaviour and public disorder," committee chair Stephen Dorrell said.

"Those are important issues, but the health impact of chronic alcohol misuse is in our view also significant and greater emphasis needs to be placed on addressing that impact."

The Home Office's current strategy seeks to "crackdown on our 'binge drinking' culture, cut the alcohol fuelled violence and disorder that blights too many of our communities, and slash the number of people drinking to damaging levels".

It aims to achieve these goals through policies like a minimum unit price on alcohol, innovative sobriety schemes and stronger local controls over alcohol licensing.

MPs endorsed some aspects of the government strategy, including the minimum unit price on alcohol.

"The Committee supports the decision to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, but the government needs to recognise that setting the price is not a one-off event," Dorrell said.

"A transparent process must be put in place in order to ensure that the price level is evidence-based and is monitored over time to assess its effectiveness," he continued.

Dorrell suggested that a "sunset clause" that eliminates the minimum unit price if it is not found to be effective might be one way to address concerns over this controversial policy.

The committee was less supportive of other aspects of the current alcohol strategy, including the current emphasis on self-regulation of businesses.

Currently, industry can sign on to be a partner in the Department of Health's Responsibility Deal, in which organisations volunteer to help address alcohol related issues.

MPs said that while the Responsibility Deal was "intrinsic to responsible corporate citizenship", they argued that several key changes must be made.

Recommendations include stricter regulations on alcohol advertising and a comprehensive review of the impact of the government programme.
Yet Dorrell acknowledged that alcohol is a difficult policy issue for government to address effectively.

"Striking the right balance on alcohol consumption is not straight forward. Most people enjoy alcohol without evidence of significant harm to their health, yet it is not possible to define what is a generally safe level of consumption as alcohol affects different people in different ways," he explained.

"Individuals who drink alcohol and the companies which sell it have an obligation to do so in a way which respects the rights and interests of their fellow citizens."


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