The drinks industry has challenged calls for the UK government to increase alcohol tax and tighten restrictions on advertising.
The newly-formed Alcohol Health Alliance, a group of 24 medical organisations and charities, says television ads for alcohol should be banned before 9pm, and stronger health warnings should be included in promotional material.
Increasing excise levels by 10%, it adds, could cut all alcohol-related deaths by 10-30%.
The alliance’s claims have been challenged by a group of drinks industry bodies, including the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, the British Beer & Pub Association, the Gin & Vodka Association, the National Association of Cider Makers and the Scotch Whisky Association.
In an open letter to Alcohol Health Alliance chairman Professor Ian Gilmore, the group argues, ‘In our view, the measures you are seeking would increase the burden on taxpayers, further restrict personal freedoms and limit consumer choice, while at the same time having little or no impact on alcohol misuse.’
The group points out that the number of people drinking more than daily guideline amounts of alcohol is falling, while overall alcohol consumption has dropped for the last two years.
It also asks why, if high taxes reduce harm, the UK has worse drinking behaviour problems than countries with low tax regimes.
The Health Alcohol Alliance says 13 children are admitted to hospital every day as a result of alcohol misuse. Alcohol-related deaths rose by 18% between 2002 and 2005, it adds, while the incidence of cirrhosis of the liver has increased 95% since 2000.
‘The very fact that 24 independent organisations have come together in this way shows how seriously we all take the impact of alcohol misuse on the nation’s health,’ said Prof Gilmore.
‘Unless we act now to stem the rising tide of excessive drinking, particularly in the young, we will see yet more people dying prematurely in early adult life.’
Jeremy Beadles, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said, ‘Alcohol consumption in Britain is dropping right across the board, so the measures proposed by the Alcohol Health Alliance are mis-directed.
‘Alcohol taxes in Britain are already amongst the highest in Europe and raising taxes further will just hit the vast majority of drinkers that enjoy a quiet drink responsibly.’
Written by Richard Woodard