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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

How much worse does binge drinking have to get before our politicians take action?

This article in the Wales on Sunday makes for disappointing reading for the BMA and its members, who deal on daily basis, with the very real consequences of alcohol misuse. The fact that many Assembly Members don’t think that raising the cost of drink won’t in any way help prevent binge-drinking, is quite staggering.
I hope this doesn’t stop the Welsh Assembly Government from continuing to support the idea of setting a minimum price on alcohol, with the Social Justice Minister, Dr Brian Gibbons saying he’d like to see a graded form of tax on drink, where a lower tax is placed on weaker alcohol and a higher tax is placed on stronger alcohol.
Last year the BMA published a report ‘Alcohol misuse: tackling the UK epidemic’, calling on governments in the UK to implement a full range of effective control policies that will reduce the burden of alcohol misuse.

It highlights how recent governments have worked too closely with the alcohol industry, pursuing policies of deregulation and liberalisation regarding alcohol control, contributing to the destruction of many people’s lives. It causes family breakdowns, is a major factor in domestic violence, ruins job prospects, is often related to crime and disorderly behaviour and it kills.

Alcohol misuse is related to over 60 medical conditions including heart and liver disease, diabetes, strokes and mental health problems. The government approach has led to increased consumption levels and alcohol-related problems and demonstrates a failure in the political drive to improve public health and order.

As well as the human cost, it also costs the NHS millions every year, treating and dealing with alcohol problems and the criminal justice system also spends similarly large amounts dealing with alcohol-related and drink-driving offences.

Key recommendations from this report include:

• Higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and this increase should be proportionate to the amount of alcohol in the product.
• An end to irresponsible promotional activities like happy hours and two-for-one offers.
• Standard labels should be displayed on all alcoholic products that clearly state alcohol units, recommended guidelines for consumption and a warning message advising that exceeding these guidelines may cause the individual and others harm.
• The legal limit for the level of alcohol permitted while driving should be reduced from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml throughout the UK.

Mass public awareness campaigns, which some AMs seem to be pointing to as a possible solution, may be politically attractive and increase knowledge about alcohol misuse, but they are very expensive and ultimately ineffective if unsupported by broad based policy. Targeted approaches are vital, including measures to reduce the availability of drink.

And we are not calling for minimum pricing of drink, to be killjoys, this is just part of it. The BMA also recognises that preventing alcohol-related harm requires accurately pin-pointing those who misuse alcohol. Yet, there is currently no system for routine screening and management of alcohol misuse in primary or secondary care settings in the UK. So, we would like to see a more comprehensive system of identifying patients at risk which could be done through screening questionnaires, when individuals visit their GP, or attend for a general hospital appointment, or when they go to A&E. So, if the WAG wants to continue with its plans for dealing with alcohol misuse, it has our full support.

Read the BMA’s report on this in detail

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