Scotland is increasingly developing distinctive policies on health, such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol, to deal with its particular health problems. You can read other posts and articles by me on Scotland here.
The new Scottish National Party-controlled government in Holyrood may introduce the UK’s first minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol, when it reintroduces a bill that fell in Scotland’s previous parliament towards the end of this year.
“Basically, we have confirmed that in the next term of parliament, in the autumn, there will be a bill for minimum pricing of alcohol,” a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government told Guardian Healthcare.
Meanwhile, authorities in Greater Manchester have drafted a bylaw that would introduce an MUP across the conurbation, but not all the 10 councils have yet agreed to it, according to Alan Higgins, director of public health for Oldham.
In a presentation at the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester, Higgins said that while work with the drinks industry is useful in educating the public, further regulation is also needed. Quoting health secretary Andrew Lansley’s point that further regulation of alcohol could be used “as appropriate”, Higgins said of an MUP set at 50p per unit: “It’s appropriate now.”
Lansley caused controversy when involving major food and drink manufacturers in developing public health policy, leading to some organisations withdrawing from work with the government.
Higgins said that the number of hospital admissions attributable to alcohol in England has risen 107% between 2002-03 and 2009-10, compared with a rise of 27% in all admissions over the same period. Alcohol consumption has risen by around 10% over the last decade, both on sales and survey data.
Representatives of the drink industry were split on the desirability of an MUP. Mark Baird, head of corporate social responsibility for drink maker Diageo, said the company opposed it. “The objective is not to reduce consumption, the objective is to reduce alcohol-related harm,” he said, adding that indicators of such harm show it falling over seven years. Higgins disputed this, saying that such indicators have been falling for less time and are not yet a certain trend.
However, representatives of pub firm Greene King and north west brewer and pub firm JW Lees offered measured approval for the concept. Mark Blythman, communications director for Greene King, said alcohol consumption has moved from licensed premises to off-sales, such as from supermarkets, where they are much less controlled. “Minimum pricing is a very straightforward, simple and I’d say cost-effective measure for tackling where the problems are,” he said.
William Lees Jones, managing director of JW Lees, said that people are drinking less, but in different ways. Referring to Oldham, he said: “It’s like the Wild West. It used to be a good night out.” He added that it was important for new measures to be selective, so that they did not damage businesses like his which are increasingly selling food with alcohol. “The health lobby is risking demonising the drinks trade.”
Diageo’s Mark Baird said that the focus should be on co-operative between public health and the drinks industry. He said that firms including Diageo have signed up to voluntary health warnings on most products containing alcohol, advertising campaigns against binge drinking, new guidelines on alcohol sponsorship in Scotland. They have also supported initiatives such as street pastors in Nottingham, anti drink-drive campaigns in Exeter and the national alcohol awareness week. This is in addition to national initiatives such as Drinkaware and the Portman Group.
Supermarket Asda has agreed to remove alcohol from the front of its stores, brewer Heineken is weakening one of its brands to remove hundreds of millions of units each year and Diageo has used its marketing expertise to target ‘irresponsible shamefuls’, the 30% of 18-30 year olds who drink irresponsibly but are ashamed of doing so, through advertising campaigns, Baird said. But he added that one opponent has compared the firm’s campaigning for responsible drinking as being akin to “putting foxes into the chicken coop and asking them to be nice”.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010