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Health impact of alcohol misuse "insidious and pervasive" say MPs

19 July 2012

The Government's Alcohol Strategy is a welcome attempt to address the problems alcohol causes in a coherent way, but its focus on public order overshadows health issues, warn MPs on the Health Committee in a new report

Launching the Committee's Government's Alcohol Strategy report, the Chair, Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP, said:

"The main focus of the strategy is binge drinking and its consequences for anti-social behaviour and public disorder. Those are important issues, but the health impact of chronic alcohol misuse is in our view also significant and greater emphasis needs to be placed on addressing that impact.

The Strategy contains a series of outcomes the Government wishes to bring about but does not define success.We believe that in order to be effective the Strategy needs some clearer objectives to provide a framework for both policy judgements and accountability.

We recommend that Public Health England should have a central role in developing these objectives, and linking them to local strategies in every area across the country."

On the question of a minimum unit price for alcohol, Stephen Dorrell said:

"The Committee supports the decision to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol , but the  Government needs to recognise that setting the price is not a one-off event. A transparent process must be put in place in order to ensure that the price level is evidence-based and is monitored over time to assess its effectiveness.

We also recommend that there should be a 'sunset clause' on the implementation of a minimum price so that it only remains in place if it is shown to be effective in reducing harmful drinking."

The Committee also concludes that:

  • The Responsibility Deal is intrinsic to responsible corporate citizenship, but it is not a substitute for Government policy
  • The alcohol industry needs to acknowledge that its advertising messages do have an effect on attitudes to alcohol and on consumption if it wishes to be seen as a serious committed partner in the Responsibility
  • Rules on the advertising of alcohol should be re-examined to reduce the likelihood of adverts  being seen by or directed at young people under 18
  • Public Health England should undertake an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Responsibility Deal. It should also commission a study into the principles and implications of introducing the French Loi Evin
  • The Department of Health's work on which models of treatment provision are most effective in addressing the health issues caused by alcohol abuse is welcome. The evidence the Committee received is that the establishment of Alcohol Specialist Nurse services throughout the country is one of those models.

"Striking the right balance on alcohol consumption is not straight forward. Most people enjoy alcohol without evidence of significant harm to their health, yet it is not possible to define what is a generally safe level of consumption as alcohol affects different people in different ways. Individuals who drink alcohol and the companies which sell it have an obligation to do so in a way which respects the rights and interests of their fellow citizens,"

adds Stephen Dorrell.

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