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New Alcohol Health Alliance calls for tougher measures on alcohol

A new coalition launched in November is calling on the Government to do more to prevent the rise in alcohol-related diseases. The Alcohol Health Alliance UK is a ground-breaking coalition of 24 organisations, including the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and headed by the Royal College of Physicians. Its mission is to reduce alcohol related health harm which it says continues to spiral.

AHA says:

  • 13 children a day are hospitalized as a result of alcohol misuse
  • Alcoholic liver cirrhosis has increased by 95% since 2000, and by 36% over the last two years to 2006 and is still increasing
  • Overall alcohol related deaths increased by 18% from 2002-2005
  • More people die from alcohol related causes than from breast cancer, cervical cancer and MRSA combined
  • The ‘passive effects’ of alcohol misuse are catastrophic – rape, sexual assault, domestic and other violence, drunk driving and street disorder
  • alcohol affects thousands more innocent victims than passive smoking

The members of the Alcohol Health Alliance are committed to working together to:

  • Highlight the rising levels of alcohol related health harm
  • Propose evidence-based solutions to reduce this harm
  • Influence decision makers to take positive action to address the damage caused by alcohol misuse
  • Advocate a policy platform consisting of:
    • Dedicated funding for alcohol treatment and prevention strategy
    • Increased taxation on alcohol
    • A ban on alcohol advertising before 9.00 pm and in cinemas apart from 18 rated films
    • Promotional material to carry information on health related harm
    • The drink driving limit to be reduced to the EU standard of 0.5g/l and a near zero limit for new drivers

Not unexpectedly, the new Alliance was vigorously attacked by representatives of the alcohol industry. Speaking at the Publican Conference in central London before the AHA had been officially launched, Mark Hastings, Communication Director at the British Beer & Pub Association, warned the industry that it faced one of the most “concerted and sustained threats to its commercial viability ever.

That’s coming from the level of the World Health Organisation, from the European Union and our own government,” he said. “Alcohol is the big issue at the moment and it’s absolutely essential that our industry gears up for what is going to be a considerable battle over the next few months and years.” Hastings said that the issue over how to deal with the problems associated with alcohol would heat up when the Alcohol Health Alliance, “made up of 21 health and temperance groups”, was launched.

Hastings claimed many lobbyists working for public health groups, who campaigned on tobacco, had moved across to focus on alcohol.

“The same skills set, the same tactics, the same people are involved with the issue of alcohol lobbying, that’s what gives it the profile it now has,” he said.

Later, an open letter was sent to Professor Ian Gilmore,Chairman of the AHA, on behalf of the five leading organisations representing the alcoholic drinks sector: the British Beer & Pub Association, Gin & Vodka Association, National Association of Cider Makers, Scotch Whisky Association and the Wine & Spirits Trade Association.

The letter requested a meeting with the AHA to discuss the Alliance’s policy platform. Rob Hayward, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association said:

“We are challenging some of the basic assumptions at the heart of this campaign. We do not believe the evidence base supports their call for higher taxes, more regulation and health warnings. Indeed, these concerns are heightened because our experience from around the world strongly suggests that the measures this lobby group are seeking could make the situation worse."

Critics of the alcohol industry will regard these staements as turning the truth on its head. The scientific concensus on alcohol taxation for example is that it is probably the single most effective means of limiting the harm associated with alcohol available to modern governments.

Alcohol Health Allilance

The present membership of the Alcohol Health Alliance is:

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
Action on Addiction
Alcohol and Health Research Trust
Alcohol Concern
Alcohol Education and Research Council
British Association for the Study of the Liver
British Liver Trust
British Society of Gastroenterology
College of Emergency Medicine
Faculty of Dental Surgery
Faculty of Occupational Medicine
Faculty of Public Health
Institute of Alcohol Studies
Medical Council on Alcohol
National Addiction Centre
National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - UK
Royal College of General Practitioners
Royal College of Nursing
Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh
Royal College of Physicians London
Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons,Glasgow
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Royal College of Surgeons London
Scottish Intercollegiate Group on Alcohol