Critical alcohol review hidden by mephedrone row

Health Editor,Jeremy Laurance
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:11

A report highly critical of the Government's alcohol strategy was published quietly the same day that a ban on the recreational drug mephedrone was recommended.

Changes are proposed in the report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which also accuses ministers of being insufficiently "pro-active" in their efforts to curb excessive drinking.

The report says pubs and restaurants should use a standard measure, so drinks contain similar amounts of alcohol. Instead of measuring drinks in terms of volume – a "large" or "small" glass of wine – they should be measured in units of alcohol, so customers understand how much they are drinking.

The report was submitted nine months ago but published only on 29 March, after the council issued its recommendation for the ban on mephedrone. It was ignored due to the outcry surrounding the drug.

Strong beers and lagers should attract higher taxes and a ban on drinking games in colleges and universities should be considered, the report says. A lower blood alcohol limit should also be imposed for drivers under 25 because of their high accident rate, it adds.

The report, Pathways to Problems, provides a detailed look at progress on recommendations made by the council in 2006 on hazardous drug use. A foreword by Caroline Healy, chair of the Pathways to Problems group who works for the Department of Health, and Professor David Nutt, former chair of the ACMD until he was sacked last November, says the council is "still concerned" about young people's use of alcohol.

"The ACMD has already made known its concerns that the Government did not go to consultation on its alcohol strategy, and we believe the Government should take a more pro-active approach towards discouraging the culture of excessive drinking and promoting the 'less risky drinking' message," it says. The proposal to switch from measures of volume to measures of alcohol is aimed to halt the trend of serving wine in larger glasses. The report says: "Nowadays, even a small glass of wine represents a large quantity of alcohol, and this encourages ever greater quantities of alcohol to be consumed."

Professor Nutt, a specialist in addiction at Imperial College, London, said: "If you order a glass of wine and you don't get a schooner you think you are being overcharged. If you are given a standard glass you think that's very small. There has been a slippage in public attitudes. People still think one glass of wine is one unit of alcohol when it might be two or four."

Professor Nutt cited the example of the Labour Party in Scotland which voted against a proposal by the ruling Scottish Nationalist Party to tax beers and lagers according to their strength. "They opposed it [saying] it would be an unfair tax on the poor. But [low taxes] just encourages them into a state where they become alcohol-dependent."

In the Netherlands, he said he had been served a Belgian beer in a small glass containing a third of a litre. The barman said it was not available in larger glasses on account of its strength.

A spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association said: "There are standard serving sizes for beer, cider and spirits. As for wine, 85 per cent is drunk at home, and in restaurants it is mainly bought by the bottle. In pubs, there should be a choice of 125ml or 175ml glasses and there are 250ml glasses available in some."

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