'Big drop' in alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption dropped in the UK at the sharpest rate for 60 years, according to industry figures yesterday.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said drinkers drank 8.4 litres of wine, beer and spirits in 2009, six per cent lower than 2008. It stressed Britons were now consuming 13 per cent less alcohol than in 2004, with consumption remaining below the EU average.

Last year’s fall, the sharpest since 1948, brings consumption back into line with the 8.4 litres of alcohol drunk in 2000. After the Millennium consumption rose for four years, peaking at 9.5 litres in 2004.

During the past decade, consumption of beer has fallen from 4 to 3.2 litres, down 22 per cent cent, while wine has risen from 2.1 to 2.7 litres, up 29 per cent,

The statistics suggest the average adult consumed half a bottle of alcopops, 1.4 pints of cider, 5.6 pints of beer, 3.8 bottles of wine and 1.7 litre bottles of spirits last year. Consumption has now fallen for three years in a row, according to the BBPA

"These figures will confound many pundits as yet again they confirm that as a nation we are not drinking more,” said chief executive Brigid Simmonds. “Those who suggest otherwise need to focus on the hard facts.”

The figures ignore the rising strength of alcohol, amid higher sales of premium Continental lager and stronger wine, but they accord with a slow decline in drinking recorded by surveys which ask people to record what they have drunk.

In January, the Office for National Statistics said that adults consumed 12.2 units of alcohol a week on average in 2008 compared with 13.5 units in 2006. “This reflects the downward trend in consumption that has been observed since 2002,” the ONS said.

“Nonetheless, 21 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women drank heavily – more than eight and six units respectively – on at least one day in the week before interview.”

Deaths from alcohol, blamed on binge drinking, are also rising.

Yesterday the Scottish Executive announced its proposed minimum price for alcohol would be set at 45p per unit. That would increase a two-litre bottle of supermarket cider from £1.30 to £3.80 and supermarket-brand vodka from £8 to £11.80.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Health Secretary, said: “I believe it is crucial that we introduce realistic alcohol pricing. That’s why we are taking decisive action, including proposals to introduce a minimum price per unit, which would bring these pocket-money prices to an end.”

While plans for minimum pricing form a key part of the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle alcohol abuse, the minority SNP lacks the necessary support to get the measure through Holyrood, with Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all opposed.

The BBPA, which represents big brewers and pub chains, said UK beer taxes were the second highest in the EU, 10 times higher than Germany and seven times higher than France.

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