Department of Health and Social Care
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Tougher laws for drinks industry could be imminent
£2.7 billion: new estimated cost of alcohol to the NHS
Mandatory regulation and labelling could be on the cards for the alcohol industry following a major consultation about England's drinking culture, launched today by Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo.
The Department of Health consultation is published together with independent reviews showing that the drinks industry is not adhering to its own voluntary standards, and new evidence suggesting that alcohol is a far wider cause of damage to people's health than previously suspected. New calculations released today put the cost of alcohol misuse to society at £17.7 billion to £25.1 billion per year, with a cost to the NHS of £2.7 billion.
The consultation proposals would mean that the current voluntary retailing code could become mandatory. This would mean retailers could have to:
- restrict the way alcohol is sold such as offering drinks in small as well as large glasses or measures - too often only one size is offered or a large is automatically given;
- restrict happy hours or irresponsible price based promotions - women 'drink for free' promotions are still all too common;
- display alcohol in off-licence premises in separate areas - no more displays by the checkout;
- give point of sale information eg. on units, allowing customers to make an informed choice; and
- train staff in shops and venues to recognise and refuse alcohol to underage or drunk customers.
Manufacturers will be given until the end of the year to put the required warnings and advice on bottles and cans. If not, Government will move to put a mandatory scheme in place. This would require health and unit information on all drinks containers.
New national hospital admissions data are also published today. They provide a more accurate picture of alcohol-related hospital admissions using new methodology.
Previously, admissions statistics only counted the three most common types of alcohol-related diseases: alcoholic liver disease, alcohol poisoning, and mental and behavioural disorders. The new methodology measures a total of 44 conditions which research shows are caused by or strongly associated with alcohol consumption. The new figures show there were 811,000 admissions in 2006 (accounting for 6 per cent of all admissions) compared with 473,500 in 2002.
Three independent reviews are also published today, which show a lack of adherence to voluntary agreements.
- The KPMG review of alcohol industry standards found that voluntary agreements are not being followed. It also found evidence of poor practice in the way alcohol is promoted.
- Independent monitoring of voluntary labelling agreements show disappointing interim results. Inclusion of unit information was agreed with industry in 1998. Despite this, 43 per cent of products surveyed did not contain unit information at all, and only 3 per cent followed the labelling scheme in its entirety.
- Interim findings from the first stage of the price and promotion review, being carried out by the University of Sheffield, finds clear UK and international evidence linking the sale of cheap alcohol to increased consumption, particularly amongst young people and those already drinking at higher risk levels. This leads to stronger evidence that irresponsible retail practice fuels excess drinking and hence harm to health. The second phase of the review is due to report later this year. When this is complete, the impact of a range of different options for regulating or restricting how alcohol is priced and promoted will be examined
Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, said:
"The evidence from this series of reviews, and the hospital admissions data, clearly make this the right time to consult on a far tougher approach to the alcohol industry.
"The drinks industry has a vital role to play if we are to change the country's attitudes to alcohol. Some sections of the industry are sticking to the voluntary codes, others are blatantly ignoring them. This consultation will decide whether legally binding regulations for retailers and manufacturers to promote sensible drinking are the way forward.
"Around a quarter of the population drink to a harmful level. These people could be drinking themselves into an early grave - we need the drinks industry to give them the help and information needed to drink at a safer level."
Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said:
"For social responsibility standards in the alcohol industry to work well they should complement the law on alcohol sales, encourage people to drink more safely and be followed consistently across the country. The KPMG report tells us quite plainly that this is not happening. At best the standards are being applied in fragmented way, at worst in many places alcohol is being sold and marketed irresponsibly.
"We now need a new set of standards and over the next few months we will work intensively with industry representatives and other interested groups to breathe new life into the system. We have also made it quite clear that if necessary we will introduce legislation to make the new standards mandatory."
Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern said:
"We very much welcome the findings from the various reports which clearly show a big increase in alcohol-related health harms. The ideas put forward for consultation make eminent sense if the Government is going to achieve a reduction in alcohol-related harms and if it is going to meet its own targets to reduce harmful drinking."
Notes to Editors:
1. The consultation can be downloaded here: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Consultations
2. New hospital admissions data is published by the Northwest Public Health Observatory on behalf of the Department of Health. They will be published on a quarterly basis from autumn this year. The documents can be downloaded here: http://www.nwph.net/alcohol
3. The KPMG report can be downloaded from the Home Office website: http://www.homeoffice.hov.uk
4. The pricing & promotion and labelling reports can be downloaded here: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Healthimprovement/Alcoholmisuse
5. Estimated annual cost of alcohol misuse: The £17.7bn-£25.1bn figure covers three cost categories: the cost to the NHS, lost productivity, and crime. The sources of the estimates for each of these cost categories are as follows:
- Healthcare costs: taken from Department of Health (2008), The cost of alcohol harm to the NHS in England.
- Crime costs: taken from Home Office (2008), Interim Impact Assessment of Responsible Alcohol Sales.
- Productivity costs: taken from Cabinet Office Strategy Unit (2003), Alcohol misuse: how much does it cost?. These figures have been converted into 2006/7 prices using the GDP deflator available at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/economic_data_and_tools/gdp_deflators/data_gdp_fig.cfm
6. The crime and productivity estimates cover England and Wales and the healthcare costs only cover England. The Home Office Impact Assessment is published with the consultation document. The healthcare costs paper can be downloaded here: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Healthimprovement/Alcoholmisuse