Wednesday, July 23, 2008

One-in-four adults drinks excessively as doctors warn of 'tsunami of alcohol-related harm'

A quarter of UK adults are damaging their health through excessive drinking, it was revealed yesterday.

Some ten million regularly flout advice on how much to drink, egged on by a licensing industry ignoring its own voluntary code on social responsibility.

There is also clear evidence that cheaper booze is to blame for a massive rise in alcohol consumption, as drink prices have halved in 30 years, relative to earnings.

A blizzard of new figures included:

* The harm caused by excess drinking is costing the UK £25billion a year in healthcare, crime and lost productivity.
* Aound 800,000 hospital admissions a year are due to alcohol-related conditions, 70 per cent more than in 2002-2003.
* Heavy drinking is killing 15,000 people a year - including a quarter of all deaths among young men aged 16 to 24.

Ministers were accused of 'dithering' as they hinted they may bring in laws to replace the failed voluntary code and outlaw aggressive discounting, but said they
would wait for more evidence before making any decision.

Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians warned: 'The Government are understandably anxious about being seen as a nanny state, but unless they take action their own figures suggest we are moving towards a tsunami of health-related harm.'

Alcohol industry leaders hit back, questioning the findings and accusing the Government of failing to enforce existing laws.

The Home Office commissioned consultants KPMG to assess the voluntary code, which was agreed three years ago and is supposed to stop drinks companies, pubs and bars cashing in on binge drinking.

In particular it is meant to stop the trade glamorising heavy drinking, marketing products to youngsters or encouraging rapid boozing through cutprice promotions in bars.

Another code is meant to ensure drinks containers are clearly labelled with the units of alcohol they contain.

The codes were at the heart of the Government's strategy as it brought in 24-hour drinking.

But researchers uncovered a catalogue of blatant abuses, describing scantily-clad women selling shots of spirits to drunken men in clubs by flirting with them, club DJs urging punters to drink more so they can 'get laid' and bar staff selling alcopops to young customers too drunk to count their change.

In 726 visits they saw only three cases where staff refused to serve a drunken customer. The worst excesses were in 'vertical drinking' venues - the large town centre pubs with no seats where young customers are crammed in.

Researchers also voiced concern over cheap supermarket alcohol.

KPMG concludes that the voluntary code has failed totally. It blames 'overriding commercial interests' to sell more alcohol, and the lack of enforcement. A separate study at Sheffield University highlighted close links between alcohol prices and consumption levels, while Department of Health figures detailed the level of harm.

The British Beer and Pub Association called for 'a renewed focus on individual responsibility and accountability, not just pointing the finger at business'.

A spokesman said: 'The Government should address the underlying culture. Legislation is a sledgehammer that will not crack the nut.'

The lost labelling

The drinks industry first agreed to include alcohol unit information on all bottles and cans ten years ago.

Labels should display the number of units inside and remind drinkers of the Government's 'safe' guidelines.

These are three to four units a day for men and two to three for women.

But a decade later, independent monitoring say they found that only just over half of all packaging - 57 per cent - contains such labelling.

Just 3 per cent carried all the information ministers want, including a warning to pregnant women to avoid alcohol.

The Department of Health admitted: 'There is now real doubt as to whether the agreement can be implemented to the extent that was originally expected'.

The 24-hour impact

The introduction of round-the-clock drinking almost three years ago was one of Labour's most controversial moves.

The Licensing Act swept away longstanding laws on closing times, letting thousands of pubs and clubs stay open into the early hours.

Police and hospitals have since complained of dramatic increases in their workload late into the night.

In the worst-affected areas, alcohol-related cases in hospital have more than doubled.

Public Health minister Dawn Primarolo played down the impact of the changes yesterday, insisting the upward trends in alcohol consumption and harm were already well established and there is no evidence they have become worse.

But hopes of creating a 'Mediterranean-style' cafe culture appear to have come to nothing.
source: Mail Online

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