Alcohol Abuse: An Integrated Approach Forward

By Richard Lewis at May 18th, 2010


Last week we brought together leading UK experts to speak at our seminar on alcohol abuse, and to debate an integrated approach forward in tackling Wales’ growing drink problem.

Speakers included: myself; Dr Zul Mirza, President of the Emergency Medicine Section, Royal Society of Medicine; Simon O’Brien, Deputy Inspector of policing for Ireland; Professor Eileen Kaner, Chair, Alcohol Programme Development Group NICE; Wynford Ellis Owen, Chief Executive of The Welsh Council on Alcohol and other Drugs; Andy Tighe, Director, Brewing, Beer and the Pub Association.

You can watch the seminar here.

We know that Health Minister Edwina Hart would like to see action on alcohol pricing from her statement in Plenary last month, and we are urging the Minister to act sooner rather than later in seeking further powers to tackle alcohol abuse, to help improve the health of the people of Wales.

Recent years have seen an increase in the levels of alcohol misuse in Wales, and in particular the pattern of binge drinking and heavy drinking.

Alcohol consumption is associated with a wide range of medical conditions and is a significant cause of morbidity and premature death. It contributes to a range of acute and chronic health consequences, from alcohol poisoning and injuries resulting from traffic crashes to cancer and cardiovascular disease. The more an individual consumes, the greater the risk of harm.

Alcohol misuse is associated with crime, violence and anti-social behaviour, and can impact significantly on family and community life.

Below are our recommendations to tackle alcohol abuse which we intend to send to the Health Minister:

• Taxation on all alcoholic beverages should be increased at higher than inflation rates and this increase should be proportionate to the amount of alcohol in the product.

• Legislation should be introduced to:
-prohibit irresponsible promotional activities in licensed premises and by off-licenses
– set minimum price levels for the sale of alcoholic beverages

• It should be a legal requirement for alcohol labeling to include the following information:
- alcohol content in units
- recommended daily UK guidelines for alcohol consumption
- a warning message advising that exceeding these guidelines may cause the individual and others harm

• Licensing legislation should be strictly enforced, including the use of penalties for breach of license, suspension or removal of licenses, the use of test purchases to monitor underage sales, and restrictions on individuals with a history of alcohol-related crime or disorder. There should be adequate funding for enforcement agencies, with consideration given to the establishment of a dedicated alcohol licensing and inspection service.

• A statutory code of practice on the marketing of alcoholic beverages should be introduced and rigorously enforced. This should include a ban on:
-marketing of alcoholic soft drinks to young people
-alcohol industry sponsorship of sporting, music and other entertainment events aimed mainly at young people
-broadcasting of alcohol advertising at any time that is likely to be viewed by young people

• The legal limit for the level of alcohol permitted while driving should be reduced from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml throughout the UK.

• Public and school-based alcohol educational programmes should only be used as part of a wider alcohol-related harm reduction strategy to support policies that have been shown to be effective at altering drinking behaviour, to raise awareness of the adverse effects of alcohol misuse, and to promote public support for comprehensive alcohol control measures.

• The detection and management of alcohol misuse should be an adequately funded and resourced component of primary and secondary care to include:
- formal screening for alcohol misuse
- referral for brief interventions and specialist alcohol treatment services as appropriate
- follow-up care and assessment at regular intervals

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