65 people die every day of alcohol-related causes. That’s about one double-decker bus crashing every day. We urge the UK Government to introduce a comprehensive, evidence-based alcohol strategy, to address the harm alcohol causes.
Our top ten recommendations of what needs to be included in an Alcohol Strategy are outlined in Health First: An evidence-based alcohol strategy for the UK.
Minimum Unit Pricing
One of the most effective policies to reduce demand for alcohol – and with that alcohol harm – is to reduce the affordability of alcohol. This has been recommended among others by Public Health England (PHE), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Over the last 30 years, alcohol in the UK has become much more affordable: supermarket beer is now 188% more affordable than in 1987, and off-trade wine and spirits are 131% more affordable.
One of the best ways to address the price of alcohol is through minimum unit pricing (MUP). MUP sets a floor price based on the amount of alcohol in a product. It thereby increases the price of the cheapest, strongest products which are favoured by the heaviest drinkers. A 50p MUP in England is estimated to save 525 lives, prevent 22,000 hospital admissions and cut healthcare costs by £326 million every year.
Another way to decrease the affordability of alcohol is through excise taxes. During 2008-12, the alcohol duty escalator did this by automatically increasing alcohol duty by 2% above inflation. This was highly effective in reducing harm: alcohol-related deaths peaked in 2008 (the year it was introduced), fell while it was in place, and have started rising again after it was abolished.
Since the duty escalator was abolished, alcohol duty has been cut in real terms for six out of seven years. Accounting for inflation, beer duty is now 18% lower than it was in 2012, cider and spirits duty are 10% lower, and wine duty is 2% lower. Cumulatively, these policies will cost the Treasury over £1.2 billion in 2018/19, and a total of £9.1 billion by 2024 – money which is urgently needed for the NHS and other public services.
We are calling for alcohol duty to be increased by 2% above inflation in this year’s budget. Will you help us and write to your MP?
Alcohol Product Labelling
International evidence shows that clear labelling of alcohol containers can increase awareness of health messages and may help consumers to make healthier choices – if the labels are clearly legible and understandable.
However, in the UK, the current self-regulation system is failing to do this: Our report Our Right to Know shows that fewer than 10% of current alcohol labels display the up-to-date CMOs’ drinking guidelines and none contain specific warnings of alcohol increasing the risk of developing certain illnesses and diseases.
The public generally supports stronger regulation: a staggering 70% of people think warnings that exceeding the drinking guidelines can damage one’s health should be displayed on alcohol labels as a legal requirement. The majority of the public (55%) would also like a specific warning that alcohol can increase the risk of developing cancer. Such a policy will shortly be introduced in Ireland under the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018.