Alcohol sales would fall nearly 40% if everyone in England drank within guidelines, research finds

Safe drinking 'financially ruinous' for drinks industry yet government has pledged to work together on policies to minimise harms, researchers warn

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Thursday 23 August 2018 00:14
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Experts calls for minimum pricing and restrictions on alcohol sales

Billions of pounds would be wiped off alcohol sales if people drank within UK guidelines, according to new research.

A major analysis by the University of Sheffield and Institute of Alcohol Studies suggested that more than two-thirds of alcohol sales in England are to people who are drinking above safe limits.

Around £13bn would be wiped off drinks sector revenues if everyone kept within the guidelines, researchers found.

This amounts to 38 per cent of all alcohol sales and the authors say this is a conflict of interest which undermines ministers’ pledges to work “in partnership” with manufacturers on policies to reduce harmful drinking.

“If everyone in England drank within the guidelines, the average price of a pint in a pub would have to rise by £2.64 and a bottle of wine in the supermarket by £4.36, in order to maintain current levels of revenue for the alcohol industry,” said Colin Angus from Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group. “The size of these increases cast serious doubt on the industry’s claims that it supports moderate drinking.”

UK guidelines say that adults should not regularly drink over 14 units, approximately a bottle and a half of wine or six pints of beer, a week.

The research, published in the journal Addiction, showed that 25 per cent of the population regularly breach this and this group accounts for 68 per cent of industry revenues.

Within this “risky drinking” group, the study shows four per cent of the population drink at medically harmful levels and account for 23 per cent of all alcohol sales.

Public health chiefs have said this group are predominantly drinking super cheap, high strength alcohol, such as ciders, and doing serious harm to their health.

Campaigners have been calling for the rest of the UK to emulate Scotland and introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol policy, which would directly target these drinks but leave the majority of drinkers unaffected.

People who abstain from alcohol are off sick more often than those who drink moderately

The policy in Scotland was delayed for five years by legal challenges from drinks industry groups who appealed the it all the way to the Supreme Court where it was unanimously dismissed.

The study’s lead author, Aveek Bhattacharya from the Institute Alcohol Studies, said ministers should be more wary of the industry’s attempts to “derail meaningful action” through lobbying and partnership offers.

“Alcohol causes 24,000 deaths and over 1.1 million hospital admissions each year in England, at a cost of £3.5bn to the NHS,” he added. “Yet policies to address this harm, like minimum unit pricing and raising alcohol duty, have been resisted at every turn by the alcohol industry.”

“Our analysis suggests this may be because many drinks companies realise that a significant reduction in harmful drinking would be financially ruinous.”

The Alcohol Information Partnership, a lobbying group funded by major international drinks companies said it supports community programmes to tackle harmful drinking and official statistics show alcohol consumption declining in the UK.

A spokesperson said: “We welcome this more mature attitude to drinking and believe targeted support is needed for the specific problems that are causing people and parts of the UK to buck this positive trend. We firmly believe that a one size fits all approach is unhelpful and punishes the vast majority of people who enjoy a drink, but are not problem drinkers.”

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment

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