Intended for healthcare professionals


Alcohol—who is paying the price?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 05 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2974
  1. Ian Gilmore, professor
  1. 1University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
  1. I.Gilmore{at}

Britain can’t afford to foot the £21bn bill that alcohol delivers annually to the economy

The toll of alcohol on individual health and on healthcare systems has been well highlighted. Alcohol sits in the top five causes of death and disability globally, responsible for 5.9% of deaths and 5.1% of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) lost each year.1 However, many policy makers have not yet accepted the economic arguments for tougher action to reduce this burden. The European Commission has ignored calls from members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and member states for a new alcohol strategy,2 and the new UK government seems unlikely to prioritise public health interests over lobbying from the drinks industry, even though alcohol harm costs our economy more than £21bn (€29bn; $32bn) a year.3

Industry influence

The UK has a relatively “light touch” system of regulation compared with many developed countries. The last government cut alcohol taxes and abolished the alcohol duty escalator, in a move that will cost the public purse more than £1.5bn over five years.4 Liberalising …

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