We need to talk about our drink problem

By on 11/08/2014 in Blog, Cllr Cotton

Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr John Cotton, reflects on renewed calls to tackle alcohol misuse in the UK.

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a while now because, let’s face facts, we’ve got a drink problem and it’s time for an intervention.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not me being a killjoy. I enjoy a pint and there’s nothing wrong with the odd drink. Most people can enjoy alcohol sensibly and in moderation.

But we’ve still got a problem.

  • Alcohol misuse costs England approximately £21bn per year in healthcare, crime and lost productivity costs
  • Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression
  • Liver disease is the only major cause of mortality and morbidity which is on the increase in England whilst decreasing in other European countries

I could go on. The physical, emotional and financial cost of alcohol misuse is a long and depressing list.

You may have seen stories this morning calling for health warnings on alcoholic drinks. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse said labels should warn about the harmful effects of drinking.

The MPs have also called for a reduction of the drink drive limit, the strengthening of regulations surrounding alcohol marketing and the introduction of a mandatory minimum price per unit for alcohol.

That last recommendation is nothing new. Health experts have been pushing for minimum unit pricing for some time now and I think it’s high time we got serious about minimum unit pricing.

The tragic fact is that low cost, high strength booze kills people, destroys families and harms communities.

The important phrase there is ‘low cost, high strength’. We’re not talking about sensible drinking here, we’re talking about drinking rocket fuel with the sole purpose of getting smashed for as little cost as possible.

According to a Sheffield University study earlier this year, introducing a minimum unit price would lead to 860 fewer deaths a year and 29,900 fewer hospital admissions among heavy-drinkers while having only a slight effect on moderate drinkers.

The study showed those heavy drinkers at high risk of accidents and deteriorating health would be most affected by a 45p minimum price. They buy large quantities of low-cost alcohol, while moderate drinkers will buy less of the cheap booze and more with a higher price tag.

Contrary to what opponents argue, a minimum unit price for alcohol would NOT damage the pockets of moderate drinkers whatever their income.

So, while I’m sure health warnings have their place,  for me the key to start tackling this problem is the introduction of minimum pricing and the sooner the Government listens to the evidence, the better.

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