Reducing harm from alcohol

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1191 (Published 20 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1191
  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1,
  2. Paul Belcher, EU government affairs advisor2,
  3. Tamara Hervey, professor of law3
  1. 1London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  2. 2Royal College of Physicians, London NW1 4LE
  3. 3University Of Sheffield, Sheffield S3 7ND
  1. martin.mckee{at}lshtm.ac.uk

    The UK must tackle the problem of cheap alcohol

    The United Kingdom has a drink problem. Whether measured as alcohol related deaths, hospital admissions, or crimes, its condition has been deteriorating markedly. And the problem is not confined to a small number of people going on a binge each weekend. Mortality from cirrhosis, a marker of more insidious harm, is now one of the highest rates in Europe, at a time when it is falling in many other European countries.1

    The reasons seem obvious. At a population level, consumption is driven by price, availability, and marketing.2 British supermarkets now sell beer more cheaply than bottled water. High street convenience shops, often only a short stagger apart, have entire walls lined with cheap alcohol. And alcohol producers—taking advantage of the latest advances in neurosciences that can, quite literally, read the minds of people they view as potential customers—have developed extremely sophisticated marketing techniques.3 Britain is awash with low price, heavily marketed alcohol.

    This is not, of course, the picture that the alcohol industry seeks to project. Learning from the tobacco industry, it has engaged in an extensive (and expensive) campaign that uses all the recognised characteristics of denialism, such as selectivity in citing studies, creation of impossible expectations of research, and logical fallacies.4 Its aim has been to convince policy makers that …

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