Government must get tough on alcohol misuse, public health experts warn

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 05 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1266
  1. Roger Dobson
  1. 1Abergavenny

UK public health specialists are calling for opportunistic screening for alcohol misuse in primary care and in hospitals among a raft of measures designed to curb the rising tide of alcohol related problems.

The alcohol position statement launched by the Faculty of Public Health and Association of Directors of Public Health at their annual conference in Cardiff this week says that government strategies need to be applied much more robustly and backed up with legislation and regulation where voluntary codes are failing.

It recommends increased duty on alcohol, greater enforcement of drink-drive laws through random breath testing, and a reduction in the legal blood alcohol limit for driving from 80 mg/100 ml to 50 mg/100 ml.

“Every week we seem to be hit with yet another shocking statistic about the damage done by alcohol misuse to individuals and society,” said faculty president Professor Alan Maryon Davis. “All of us, especially government, have to stop tiptoeing around this problem and really get to grips with it. We need firm action now.”

Dr Tim Crayford, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “Despite a number of governmental strategies, problems related to alcohol are getting worse, not better. It’s time to turn this tide and help people back to safer levels of drinking.”

A considerable body of evidence shows that the most effective alcohol policies are those that combine measures targeted at the whole population, such as price increases and restricting availability, with those that focus on vulnerable groups, such as binge drinkers and older drinkers, says the statement.

Tax policies and competition among retailers have meant that alcohol has become both more widely available and more affordable. The number of shops licensed to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises has doubled since the 1950s, and supermarket and off licence sales now account for almost half of the alcohol sold in the United Kingdom. The statement says that the affordability of alcohol in England increased by 65% between 1980 and 2006, and licensing restrictions on the opening hours of pubs, bars, and nightclubs have also been relaxed.

“The alcohol industry continues to find ways of promoting alcohol as a glamorous, exciting product to the youth market despite codes of practice prohibiting its association with social or sexual success,” says the statement.

Sponsorship of sports and live music events, likely to appeal to young people, and indirect and viral marketing through product placement in films and television programmes and via the internet, it says, “is widespread and unregulated.”

Legislation should be used to tighten regulation of the drinks industry and retailers regarding marketing, promotion, minimum pricing, and discounting, the statement recommends. And a comprehensive and easy to understand system of labelling of alcohol content should be introduced.


View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription