In the UK, alcohol consumption is falling – as it has been for over a decade.Underage drinking is in decline,as are alcohol-related underage admissions to A&E. “Binge” drinking is also falling, and 70% of UK drinkers stay within the Chief Medical Officers’ new low-risk drinking guidelines. Alcohol related crime is lower than ever and in many towns and cities the night time economy is increasingly well-managed, diverse and vibrant. Drinking in the UK is predominantly moderate, convivial and social. With nearly 20% of adults choosing to be teetotal,there is a consumer-driven increase in the variety and quality of low- and non-alcoholic drinks.
So why do we have regular headlines screaming that we are a nation of heavy drinkers, that our town centres are no-go areas, and that young people are drinking themselves into an early grave? The common answer is that it’s all the media’s fault -they seek out sensational stories and pictures and plaster them on the front pages with calls that “something must be done”. It’s true that to some extent the media are part of the problem.
However, I’d argue the media is only responding to the stream of temperance-funded or influenced anti-alcohol reports. There is a community of academics and activists with a clear agenda – to reduce alcohol consumption to zero – dressed up as wanting to improve population health.
These activists are not to be confused with the many public health specialists and academics who want to do no more than help keep me and you as healthy as possible and prevent us from overdoing it on the drink. They want to support those with alcohol problems and dependency and help them back to a decent quality of life. These public health teams do important work and deserve widespread support.
Where I, and the Alcohol Information Partnership, do take issue is with those who make inflated claims through “research” for which they have a predetermined outcome supporting their own ideologically driven agenda. These are the anti-alcohol campaigners who, when asked about their end game, have no real answer. Rather than talk about preventing alcohol misuse, they talk about eliminating risk – and to do this would require the elimination of all alcohol consumption.Some would call this prohibition.
The tactic of the extreme anti-alcohol campaigners is to offer their three favourite policies as the answer to every problem: restrictions on advertising, an increase in price and reduced availability.
They argue reducing advertising will stop young people drinking but ignore the inconvenient fact that young people already drink less every year without additional restrictions. They also ignore the fact that advertising is about brand not alcohol – no one runs an “alcohol is good” advertising campaign like the Milk Marketing Board did in the 1980s – remember “nice cold ice cold milk” or “Lotta Bottle”?
On price the campaigners believe minimum unit pricing will stop people drinking cheap alcohol – they have little real life evidence for this but have developed an academic model that believes a few pence on a bottle will stop people drinking. They also want to increase tax on alcohol whenever possible. At best this could have a marginal impact on problem drinkers. At worst, it may mean alcoholics spend more money on their addiction leaving less for their family or essentials.
Finally – availability: the anti-alcohol campaigners want to “de-normalise” alcohol. They want alcohol sold in gated aisles, behind screens or with separate check outs. They want restrictions on local shops being able to sell alcohol and want to find ways to restrict bars and pubs opening.
The AIP challenges this anti-alcohol movement, and brings balance to the debate. We do not deny that alcohol can be harmful or that some people have a problem with alcohol. Where problems exist, support and help should be given. But when 70% drink sociably and within very moderate low risk guidelines, and many indicators of harm are falling, we do not believe heavy handed intervention is the best solution. We are opposed to any more government restrictions and regulations that are clearly designed to advance an anti alcohol or temperance agenda.
I do not believe temperance has the support of a society where the vast majority enjoy a drink or two with friends and family in a convivial, social and healthy manner as we have for thousands of years.
First appeared in CAMRA What’s Brewing April 2017
ONS data shows most people continue to drink in moderation
Responding to todays UK statistics on alcohol consumption Dave Roberts Director General of the Alcohol Information Partnership said
“These UK figures from the Office of National Statistics demonstrate that the majority of adults drink within low risk guidelines. We welcome the positive trends around binge drinking and harmful drinking which have declined by 17% and 23% respectively since 2005.
The majority of people that choose to drink do so in a moderate and convivial manner.
There has been an increase in teetotallers over the last decade and the 16-24 age group are most likely not to drink at all.
Drinking habits across the UK are improving and the projects across the country that target personal and community harm are clearly having an impact. This data once again demonstrates that those in the anti-alcohol lobby that demand whole scale reform and continue to peddle fear and hysteria are out of touch with the reality of how the UK consumes alcohol. The partnerships across the country that work tirelessly to reduce harm and enable people to enjoy a drink with friends and family in a safe and friendly environment, be that at home or in a pub, club or restaurant, should be congratulated for the great work they do. The data indicates that we continue to have a maturing relationship with alcohol. However there remain some groups of people and communities that may need more support to moderate their drinking behaviour, and other groups where targeted intervention is needed to reduce the harmful impact of dependency or excessive consumption.
Comment on Lancet Public Health Report on poverty and alcohol
Commenting on todays report in the Lancet Public Health Dave Roberts Director General of the Alcohol Information Partnership said
“We know from official government statistics that the vast majority of people consume alcohol within the Chief Medical Officers low risk guidelines. The report shows that, while consuming the least amount of alcohol, the poorest may suffer disproportionate levels of harm.
It is therefore important to understand how alcohol interacts with other issues associated with lower socio-economic status. This will enable a sophisticated response that targets particular communities rather than heavy handed intervention aimed at the whole population.”
What is it that the anti-alcohol lobby really want from the Governments in Edinburgh and Westminster? It’s impossible to really say as they duck and dive all over the place in an endless attempt to support their three favoured demands – an increase in the cost of alcohol, restrictions on the availability of alcohol and new regulations to reduce or eliminate advertising and marketing activity. And what’s their reason for these demands – is it to reduce overall consumption of alcohol – even among moderate drinkers, or maybe to “protect” children from alcohol, or to support the recovery of alcoholics and their families, or to reduce crime, empower women, boost the economy or save the NHS? It could be any or none of these worthy goals – it seems to depend on the day of the week and the most recent headlines.
Whatever it is that the temperance and anti -alcohol lobby really want the one thing that can be certain is that they are driven by a desire to restrict the ability of those working in the drinks industry to trade freely.
Restricting availability of alcohol means changes to licencing laws and opening hours, maybe separate aisles in super markets or limits on the number of drinks someone can buy. Increasing the cost of alcohol isn’t just about Minimum Unit Pricing – which if introduced in Scotland can be expected to be increased and expanded – it can also be about taxation, offers and happy hours. While restricting advertising and marketing could impact on the ability of everyone in the industry to promote their products and business – such as a ban on boards outside premises.
I haven’t come across anyone in the industry that denies excessive alcohol consumption can harm individual health and wider society. That’s why all parts of the industry invest time, money and effort into partnership programmes that support education projects, improve the management of the night time economy, provide better training for bar staff and proof of age schemes – to name but a few.
Alcohol has been part of our culture for thousands of years. It has been part of our social and celebratory life for generations. The value of a drink with friends and family is hard to calculate but for many the local pub is a place of happiness and wellbeing, the occasional evening tipple brings a simple pleasure and the enjoyment of a glass of wine with food is something to relish.
Yet if we listen to those that endlessly campaign against alcohol you would get the impression that society is awash with alcoholics, that our streets are no go areas and that we are all busy killing ourselves. This is simply untrue – the truth is that society’s relationship with alcohol is evolving and maturing. Over the past 13 years or so there has been an overall fall in consumption, underage drinking has reduced, alcohol related crime has fallen and young adults drink less year on year. While there are undoubtedly still people with serious problems and others that should review their drinking habits the vast majority of people who choose to drink enjoy alcohol in a convivial and social manner – and in moderation.
But the anti-alcohol campaigners steadfastly refuse to accept the changes and continue to preach their belief that the only way to manage drinking habits is the use of more Government regulations and greater interference in the free market and an individual’s freedom to choose.
This paternalistic approach is based on a belief that individuals are unable to decide for themselves, are unable to understand health messages and have no ability to moderate their actions. It refuses to believe targeted partnership projects can work – even though the evidence appears to prove they do.
While consumption patterns are changing the anti-alcohol lobby remain stuck in their ways – advocating policy interventions based on telling people what to do rather than trusting them to make their own decisions. And because of this lack of trust they feel it is only right to impose regulations and price increases on people just to make absolutely sure they can’t enjoy their favoured drink.
First appeared in Dram Magazine http://dramscotland.co.uk/
Comment on data about the number of children living with an alcoholic parent
Comment from Alcohol Information Partnership re data on the number of children living with an alcoholic parent
“It is very useful to have an up to date estimate of the number of children living with parents heavily dependent on alcohol. This data can help target resources and ensure they are focused on helping those with real and consistent problems. The children of alcoholics and their families need specialist help and support, whereas the vast majority of people that choose to drink do so in a moderate, convivial and social manner.
“According to government data, alcohol consumption across the UK has fallen in recent years with the vast majority of people now drinking within the Chief Medical Officers new more stringent guidelines. In addition to young adults drinking less year on year, underage drinking is in decline and alcohol related crime is falling.
“The targeted work of partnerships across the country have contributed to the welcome improvements in drinking patterns in the UK. The alcohol industry is committed to continuing to work to make progress in this area. ”
Study shows that moderate alcohol consumption can lower the risk of some heart disease
Commenting on today’s BMJ study that finds moderate alcohol consumption can help lower the risk of some cardiovascular disease Dave Roberts Director General of the Alcohol Information Partnership said
“This new study confirms yet again what previous studies have consistently found. Moderate alcohol consumption can have a beneficial impact on health. This study demonstrates that the anti-alcohol campaigners mantra that there is no safe limit just doesn’t stack up.
This is good news for the vast majority of people who drink alcohol in moderation. It shows yet again that moderate consumption can form part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.”
Commenting on alcohol consumption statistics released today by Public Health England, Dave Roberts, Director General of the Alcohol Information Partnership said
“Today’s report shows that, despite the Government’s weekly drinking guidelines being recently revised to amongst the lowest in the world, the vast majority of people in England are still drinking within these new guidelines.
There remain some groups and communities that drink over the low risk guidelines and these groups need targeted interventions rather than blanket, catch-all policies aimed at reducing consumption in the whole population.
Most drinkers in England continue to do so without any harm to themselves or others.
Response to misleading use of figures re MUP and Northern Ireland
The Belfast Telegraph article 22nd January “50p alcohol unit price ‘would save 63 lives in Northern Ireland” is misleading to the public and policy makers.
Firstly the proposals for Minimum Unit Pricing are based on computer modeling and there are no certainties that its introduction in Northern Ireland would actually save any lives at all – it might – but as there are no direct real life examples for MUP it is far from certain what the impact will be.
Secondly the paper from Sheffield University refers to 63 lives possibly being saved per year after 20 years – it is clearly misleading to imply that this would be from year one. In fact the computer modeler leading the work has stated that he doesn’t have a confident figure for lives potentially saved in the first year – but states it might be around 20, very different to 63. The same modeling predicted 60 lives would be saved in the first year in Scotland – with three times the population of NI.
Accuracy is important, especially when dealing with the controversial and complex issue of alcohol in society. While data on alcohol consumption in Northern Ireland is not easily available recent figures show that the vast majority of adults drink sensibly. Since 2011 men and women drinking above the recommended limit of 14 units per week has decreased and since 2005 binge drinking has fallen by 18%. There remain problems with alcohol dependent drinkers and the harm this can cause – however our collective ability to address these specific drinkers is not helped when what’s published or promoted is merely partial or otherwise inaccurate data that can mask real issues and opportunities.
Response to Byrne and Ashworth re numbers of children of alcoholics
The recent focus given by the MPs Liam Byrne and Jonathan Ashworth to the plight of children and families of alcoholics has shed a welcome light on an important question – how best do we support individuals and families affected by substance misuse.
However, the use of exaggerated numbers to support the cause is misleading and unhelpful. The recent reports claim 2.5 million children live with an alcoholic parent. Yet according to the references provided this is in fact untrue by a factor of more than three. The reference given in the APPG “Manifesto for Change” to a report by the Children’s Commissioner leads to data on hazardous drinking not alcohol dependency – these are very different things –and it clearly states that there are 700,000 children of dependent drinkers not 2.5 million.
The reference also refers to a report written in 2012 that relies on a study published in 2009 that no doubt used even older data. It ignores that fact that over the past 13 years alcohol consumption per head in the UK has fallen, harmful and binge drinking is down and young people drink less than ever. UK society is becoming ever more moderate and abstemious. It would be far better to have a debate that is honest and balanced not out of date, inaccurate or misleading.