Wine drinkers as well as binge drinkers targeted in new UK government drive

  • Tuesday 5 June 2007

Wine lovers may be targeted as well as underage ‘binge drinkers’ in the UK government’s new drive to tackle excessive drinking.

The revised Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, ‘Safe. Sensible. Social. The next steps in the National Alcohol Strategy’ was published today by the Department of Health and other government departments.

Although the strategy paper concentrates on the harm caused by excessive drinking amongst young people in the UK, there is also a clear message that the government intends the scope of new regulations be broad.

‘For the first time, we will publish clear guidelines for parents and young

people about the effects of alcohol and what is not safe and sensible. We will spell out clearly for everyone, of all ages, the health risks of harmful drinking,’ Caroline Flint, Minister of State for Public Health, said in the foreword to the document.

She added, ‘There are people, adults, who on a very regular basis are probably drinking twice the amount that is recommended.’

‘We want to target the older drinkers, those that are maybe drinking one or two bottles of wine at home in the evening,’ a government source said. ‘They don’t realise the damage they are doing to their health.’

This week the government announced alcoholic drinks would carry warning labels from 2008, spelling out the number of units contained, as part of a voluntary agreement with the drinks industry.

At the same time there are calls for health warnings on beer and wine to be extended into bars and onto wine lists. The British Medical Association said that guidelines on safe drinking levels should not be confined to the backs of bottles and cans but ‘in a form of labelling that goes up in pubs and restaurants.’

The report, which updates the government's first alcohol strategy in 2004, said the 7.1m ‘hazardous and harmful’ drinkers in England cost the health economy £1.3bn, while another 1.1m ‘dependent drinkers’ cost £403m.

The government wants to bring about a change in attitudes towards drinking and public drunkenness. This would be as radical as the change in attitude which made drink driving socially unacceptable in the late 1980s.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said, ‘It's almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk and we want to change that attitude.’

Jeremy Beadles of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said the strategy, ‘reflects the progress already being made in tackling alcohol abuse’, but he expressed disappointment that it had been drawn up without full consultation with the drinks industry.

He also said, in reference to the UK’s already very high rates of tax on alcohol, ‘we would be very concerned if the Government were to seek to restrict the industry’s ability to compete and to offer a wide range of consumer choice and value.’

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