Intended for healthcare professionals


UK alcohol industry’s “billion units pledge”: interim evaluation flawed

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 24 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1301
  1. John Holmes, senior research fellow,
  2. Colin Angus, research associate,
  3. Petra S Meier, professor of public health
  1. 1Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4DA, UK
  1. Correspondence to: C Angus c.r.angus{at}
  • Accepted 17 February 2015

Flaws in the Department of Health’s interim evaluation of an alcohol industry pledge to remove one billion alcohol units from the market raise questions about the claimed success argue John Holmes and colleagues. They say that the report should be withdrawn and revised targets set

The UK government’s 2012 alcohol strategy proposed several evidence based policies, including minimum unit pricing.1 However, few of these policies have been implemented. Instead, the government has increasingly pointed to the industry’s pledge to remove one billion units from the alcohol market as an indication of what can be achieved through voluntary deals with industry.2 For example, the billion unit pledge was the only alcohol intervention mentioned listed as deliverable in the Department of Health report Living Well for Longer in July 2014.3 Although the latest interim analysis claims that the pledge has been met,4 we believe the data used in the analysis may not be fit for purpose, that the report makes simplistic assumptions about consumer responses to the pledge, and takes insufficient notice of confounding factors.

Billion unit pledge

The pledge by 33 alcohol producers, retailers, and trade organisations began in 2012 and was announced as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal, the government’s flagship public health policy.5 Under the responsibility deal, industry partners pledge to undertake activities that ostensibly address public health problems. The government argues that such voluntary agreements are preferable to costly and cumbersome regulatory approaches. The billion unit pledge committed signatories to “remove one billion units of alcohol sold annually from the market by December 2015, principally through improving consumer choice of lower alcohol products.”6

In practice, this means that the alcoholic strength of some beverages will be reduced and new beverages branded as low or no alcohol will be developed and promoted by …

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