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Alcohol: know your limits and increase the price

A recent article in the British Medical Journal (Kmietowicz 2009) reports that "The chief medical officer for England has called for a minimum price of 50 pence (0.54; $0.70) to be charged for a unit of alcohol to reduce excessive drinking and its associated harms.  Liam Donaldson said that antisocial drinking should be targeted in the same way as smoking in public places so that being drunk is no longer an aim or socially acceptable.  ‘England has a drink problem and the whole of society bears the burden,' said Professor Donaldson at the launch of his 2008 annual report. ‘The passive effects of heavy drinking on innocent parties are easily underestimated and frequently ignored. The concept of passive drinking and the devastating collateral effect that alcohol can have on others must be addressed on a national scale.'  He said that evidence shows that price and access are the two key factors that can help to change drinking habits, as they were for tobacco."  

The article goes on to state "Earlier this month Scotland became the first country in Europe to propose a minimum price per unit of alcohol to tackle binge drinking.  Although alcohol consumption has fallen in many European countries since 1970 it has increased by 40% in England, said Professor Donaldson. The average adult in the UK consumes the equivalent of 120 bottles of wine a year.  Crime and antisocial behaviour associated with alcohol costs £7.3bn a year in emergency and criminal justice services. Costs to the NHS are estimated at £2.7bn a year.  Adopting his recommendation on alcohol pricing would result in 3393 fewer deaths, 97 900 fewer hospital admissions, 45 800 fewer crimes, 296 900 fewer sick days, and a total benefit of over £1bn, said Professor Donaldson.  Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said, ‘Alcohol misuse is a health priority, and the government, health professionals, the alcohol industry, and other stakeholders have a responsibility to explore all avenues in an attempt to reduce the number of people who become ill or die every year because of alcohol misuse. There is a lot of evidence that shows that pricing affects how much people drink, so this area needs to be considered.'"

For the full 8 page report on "Passive drinking: the collateral damage from alcohol" see the link given below.  See too the helpful current Department of Health campaign website "Alcohol, know your limits" (details below) with its information on "How many units in your drink", "Unit calculator", "What is a unit", "Advice for when you have a drink", "Drink diary", "Health harms of regularly exceeding guidelines", "Advice on how to cut down", "Positive aspects of cutting down", "Alcohol and pregnancy", "Myths debunked", and "FAQ".  Good stuff.  Good time to act.

"Alcohol, know your limits."  NHS website at http://units.nhs.uk/index.php accessed 5 April 2009.

Kmietowicz, Z. (2009). "Target cheap drinking as we did passive smoking, says chief medical officer." BMJ 338(mar17_3): b1124-.  [Extract]

"Passive drinking: the collateral damage from alcohol."  Chief Medical Officer's Annual Report, published 16 March 2009.  Go to http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/AnnualReports/DH_096206 and open chapter on Passive Drinking.  Accessed 5 April 2009.


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