UK government announces plan to tackle alcohol

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 18 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:659
  1. Lynn Eaton
  1. London

    UK alcohol manufacturers could be forced to give similar health warnings on alcohol bottles to those that currently appear on cigarette packets, if plans to tackle excessive drinking, outlined in a government report, are accepted.

    The report, from the Prime Minister's strategy unit, outlines a package of measures to try to curb people's drinking because of the effect of excess alcohol on people's health and the separate issue of alcohol related violence. The measures include improving the “safe drinking” message as few people know how many units they can safely drink; encouraging the drinks industry to advise on sensible consumption in advertisements and on products; and improving alcohol education in schools.

    The report acknowledges, however, that similar initiatives to label products, already in place in the United States, have not led to a substantial change in people's drinking habits.

    Prime Minister Tony Blair launched the report two days before the Budget, when further increases in tax on alcohol were thought likely. It also follows a consultation on public health, issued last month (13 March, p600).

    Mr Blair said: “Millions of us enjoy drinking alcohol with few if any ill effects. Indeed, moderate drinking can bring some health benefits. But increasingly, alcohol misuse by a small minorityhas caused problems—crime and antisocial behaviour in town and city centres and harm to health as a result of binge and chronic drinking.”

    Young people under 16 are drinking twice as much as they were 10 years ago, according to the report.

    Alcohol misuse is costing England up to £6.4bn ($11.6bn; €9.4bn) in lost productivity, it says, through absence, unemployment, or premature death from excessive drinking.

    The report estimates that each GP sees 364 heavy drinkers a year. Accident and emergency departments also see people who have problems associated with heavy or binge drinking. Mental health services are also likely to see people with alcohol related problems—a third of those with mental illness have substance misuse problems, it says.

    The Department of Health is to encourage doctors and other healthcare staff to identify alcoholrelated problems in patients.

    These plans have been sharply criticised, however, by Professor Ian Gilmore, chairman of the alcohol committee of the Royal College of Physicians. “The college has real concerns as to whether [the plans] will be translated into sufficient action on what is the second commonest cause of preventable death in this country,” he said.

    The Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England is available

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