By Dr Emilia Crighton, chair of the Scottish committee of the Faculty of Public Health.
So the government has decided to bring in a ban on pub and club drinking promotions that encourage people to drink fast and furiously. Licensees will face fines of up to £20,000 or face a prison sentence, under this new tougher code of practice.
This is definitely a step forward in attempting to tackle a British drinking culture that encourages people to see drinking large volumes of alcohol as an achievement to crow about to friends, rather than a threat to their health.
The introduction of the mandatory code of practice banning irresponsible promotions; the need for age verification policies; and ensuring smaller measures are available, acknowledges the failure of the voluntary arrangements that have been in place until now.
Making pub and clubs offer free tap water to customers, from April, should also be welcomed. Drinking water could help drinkers slow their consumption of alcohol and tackle dehydration.
As the FPH has regularly argued, alcohol consumption in the UK has doubled over the last 40 years and the average consumption of alcohol in the population is directly linked to the amount of harm. Increases in alcohol consumption have been driven by an increase in off sales, which now represents around 51% of alcohol volume sales, up from 24% in 1980. Consumption is strongly linked to affordability: as price has fallen, consumption has risen. Alcohol is now 69% more affordable than thirty years ago. The increased affordability of alcohol has been driven by the off sales sector.
Tackling price and availability are the most effective alcohol policies aimed at reducing alcohol related harm. Research produced by the team at Sheffield University which modelled the effect of different levels of minimum pricing on alcohol consumption indicates increasing impact on consumption with increases in price. For example the introduction of a minimum price of 40 pence per unit in Scotland would have a very small effect on consumption (-2.7 per cent), while at 50 pence and 60 pence, there would be significant changes in consumption (-7.2 per cent and 12.9 per cent respectively). The higher the price, the lower the consumption, and the lower the harm caused by drinking.
However, the government needs to go further. The introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol sold will have the highest financial impact on harmful drinkers. People who drink within the sensible drinking guidelines will hardly be financially affected. For example, if a 40p minimum price was introduced, it is estimated that a moderate drinker’s spend on alcohol would go up by £11 per year (21p per week), but that of a harmful drinker, who tends to buy more, cheap alcohol, would go up by £137. The increased prices in alcohol could be offset by lower prices for food and non alcoholic drinks by the supermarkets.