Public Health Scotland publish their final MUP evaluation
In June, Public Health Scotland (PHS) published their final evaluation of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in Scoltand, bringing together evidence from 40 research publications.
PHS reported consistent evidence of a reduction in alcohol consumption, primarily driven by a reduction of cider and spirits sales in the off-trade. The report found that there was strong quantitative evidence that MUP was associated with a reduction in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption. These reductions were largest among men and those living in the 40% most deprived areas in Scotland.
There was some qualitative evidence that MUP may have had some negative health consequences for those with alcohol dependence, including increased withdrawal in homeless and street drinkers. However, effective, evidence-based treatment and wider support addressing the root causes is required for alcohol dependence.
Last week, Conservative MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane wrote to the head of the UK Statistics Authority asking for a review of the report, accusing the Scottish government of ‘grossly misleading’ the public. A government representative has outlined the research governance processes and established scientific methods taken to synthesise the evidence and ensure impartiality.
How have governments communicated UK alcohol duty policy changes?
New research from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) has found wide variation in how decisions on alcohol duty have been communicated over the past15 years.
This qualitative study analysed 113 Budget speeches, HM Treasury publications, Finance Bill debates, press releases, tweets, and policy proposals between 2008 and 2023, identifying six over-arching themes:
- appealing to both continuity and change
- supporting industr yand business, especially the ‘Great British pub’
- contributing to public finances and improving tax structures
- benefiting consumers and families
- improving health and reducing alcohol harm
- advancing fairness and simplicity.
Considering this varying and sometimes contradictory messaging, the IAS recommend improving consistency and policy coherency by introducing an independent commission to set duty rates and automatic uprating. Read the full thematic analysis.
Could transaction-blocking alcohol purchases help those affected by alcohol use disorder?
Transaction blocking is currently available in the UK for gambling activity, where a bank will refuse to action card payments on gambling platforms at the request of the customer. In this blog, Sam Rook explores if this could be transferred into alcohol policy.
There is much debate on the efficacy of this opt-out mechanism, but it is generally agreed that self-exclusion works effectively when a person admits they have a problem and commits to sincere attempts to change. The support of family, friends and professionals greatly increases the chance of self-exclusion working.
Rook explains that alcohol products can be encoded onto barcodes, which could then be flagged in online transactions and cash register transactions, and declined if bank card being used to pay has a self-exclusion on it.
Read more about how a transaction-blocking mechanism could work in practice, and what’s in it for banks and retailers.
Dame Carol Black welcomes Humankind’s approach to mental health and substance use treatment
Dame Carol Black, who led a landmark national review on drugs, visited Staffordshire to find out more about Humankind’s new Integrated Co-occurring Needs (ICoN) initiative, which brings together local authority, NHS, voluntary and community sectors in a single approach.
ICoN has a dedicated team of professionals including psychologists, mental health practitioners and substance use coordinators, using phases of intervention to offer the right support to the right people, at the right time. The pathway will support people for at least six months, coordinating any transitions into local services while offering a follow-up review to provide an opportunity to reflect on progress and any challenges.
Dame Carol Black said: ‘In my review presented to government, I said it was essential that we looked at mental health when it comes to problems with substance use, so I think it is excellent that Staffordshire has linked this support together. I hope that other areas will now find out more about ICoN and think about how they could borrow it, follow it or perhaps adjust it to best meet the needs of their local communities and the people who need their support.’
Watch this video to hear from the ICoN team and experts within the service on their trailblazing approach.
New Men’s Health manual on gambling and health
Gambling can become a serious addiction with wide-ranging financial, health and relationships consequences. Roughly one-in-100 people in the UK have a gambling disorder, and a further four-to-seven people in every 100 gamble at risky levels that could become a problem in the future. There are estimated to be around 600 gambling-related suicides in the UK every year.
A new manual from Men’s Health explains how gambling works, the role of digital apps and online gambling, and how it can affect your brain and many other aspects of your life. It also includes tips to stop gambling and case studies of men who have experienced a gambling addiction.
Reshaping Scotland’s night-time economy: Public and stakeholder views on the changing role of alcohol post-COVID-19
Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems/Scottish Alcohol Research Network
25 July 2023, 12.45–2pm
Supporting LGBTQ+ people to navigate alcohol issues, avoid alcohol problems, and access alcohol support
Alcohol Change UK
21 September 2023, 10am–1pm
Reaching out: Helping services to engage with the most vulnerable drinkers
Alcohol Change UK
18 and 19 October 2023
MCA annual symposium on alcohol and health
Medical Council on Alcohol
22 November 2023
Royal College of Physicians London, NW1 4LE
Meet the members
Every month, we speak to a member of the AHA to find out more about what they do and how their organisation is working to end alcohol harm.
Today we meet Lisa Erlandsen, policy and advocacy manager at the Alcohol Health Alliance.
How does your organisation help to reduce alcohol harm?
What I love about the AHA is that it absolutely embodies the notion that we are stronger collectively than we are individually. We have so many incredible members, all with so much knowledge on alcohol harm and all bringing slightly different areas of expertise to the table (from research to policy, to working on the frontline of NHS or treatment services). Collectively, that gives us a really powerful voice of experience to take to policymakers, to advocate as strongly as we can for those affected by alcohol harm.
What inspires you most in your job?
Something that has blown me away since I’ve started working here is how passionate everybody working in this sector is about tackling alcohol harm. That is inspiring in itself: working around, and with, people who care so much about making a difference.
As much as it is easy to look at the current alcohol harm figures and feel a sense of outrage and despair, I am also inspired by how much I have seen this issue change and evolve in recent years. For a long time, there was an undeniable stigma in the public mind around alcohol harm: the industry narrative was to blame the person rather than the product, so people felt ashamed to ask for help and often suffered in silence. I am hopeful that changes in understanding, perception and empathy around alcohol harm will eventually drive a change in policy decisions and priorities, even if it’s slowly (and with some persuasion from organisations such as ours!) at first.
What change do you think would make the biggest difference in reducing alcohol harm?
I think that tackling the relentless marketing of alcohol products that people are bombarded with – on our screens, in supermarkets, at sports events and even just walking down your local high street – would make a particularly significant difference to alcohol harm.
Marketing is clever by design – it nudges us to want and buy certain things, but it also shapes cultural norms and values of what is socially acceptable, normal – even desirable. So, when it comes to marketing a product that carries the levels of severe health risks that alcohol products do, there needs to be more (and enforceable) responsibility around that. This means limiting exposure to children and vulnerable adults, and educating the consumer of the health risks of these products too so they can make informed choices.
It’s too easy to blame the consumer for ‘poor lifestyle choices’, when in fact price promotions, excessive marketing and a lack of health information on the product itself are actively encouraging many people to make these choices in the first place.