Tougher action needed on alcohol misuse

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A new hard-hitting report ‘Alcohol misuse: tackling the UK epidemic’ launched by the British Medical Association (BMA) calls on governments to show leadership and implement a full range of effective control policies that will reduce the burden of alcohol misuse.

Alcohol kills six people every day in Scotland and it has been estimated that treating alcohol related illness costs the NHS in Scotland ?110 million, with the overall cost to Scotland (including social work, criminal justice, emergency services and economic costs) equalling ?1.1billion per year.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA Head of Science and Ethics said:

“Recent governments have worked too closely with the alcohol industry and have pursued policies of deregulation and liberalisation regarding alcohol control.

“As doctors we see first hand how alcohol misuse destroys lives. It causes family breakdowns, is a major factor in domestic violence, ruins job prospects, is often related to crime and disorderly behaviour and it kills. Alcohol misuse is related to over 60 medical conditions including heart and liver disease, diabetes, strokes and mental health problems. The government approach has led to increased consumption levels and alcohol-related problems and demonstrates a failure in the political drive to improve public health and order.”

Key recommendations from the report include (a full list can be found on page seven of the report):

– Higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and this increase should be proportionate to the amount of alcohol in the product.
– An end to irresponsible promotional activities like happy hours and two-for-one offers.
– Standard labels should be displayed on all alcoholic products that clearly state alcohol units, recommended guidelines for consumption and a warning message advising that exceeding these guidelines may cause the individual and others harm.
– The legal limit for the level of alcohol permitted while driving should be reduced from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml throughout the UK.

Mass public awareness campaigns may be politically attractive and increase knowledge about alcohol misuse but they are very expensive and ultimately ineffective if unsupported by broad based policy, says the BMA report. Targeted approaches are vital, including measures to reduce alcohol availability and thus consumption by young people and children.

Dr Andrew Thomson, a member of the BMA Board of Science and GP in the North East of Scotland, said:

“Our report is making some tough recommendations but if the government is serious about tackling this issue then tough action is needed. The report identifies that in order to deliver results the Scottish Government must stop working in partnership with the alcohol industry.

“Since 1997, taxes on wine and beer in the UK have only increased in line with inflation while taxes on spirits have not increased at all. There is strong and consistent evidence that price increases result in reduced consumption and that increased opening hours are associated with increased alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. The government needs to act on this evidence.”

The report calls for a more comprehensive system for routine screening and management of alcohol misuse in primary or secondary care settings across the UK. It also recommends new ring-fenced funding for specialist alcohol treatment services so that patients can be seen as soon as possible.

Dr Thomson believes it is necessary that more is done to help people with alcohol problems:

“We need to identify patients who are misusing alcohol much earlier, but it doesn’t end there. There must be enough funding in place to refer patients who are at risk to specialist centres. Alcohol is a public health priority and I want Scottish Ministers to work with doctors to put an end to Scotland’s drink problem.”

Source: British Medical Association, UK

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