Jackie Ballard: Tackling drink problems takes more than words

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IN the UK, one person an hour dies from conditions caused by alcohol. There are now 1.2 million hospital admissions a year due to alcohol misuse. Alcohol-related harm is the largest single risk factor for deaths in working age – tackling a problem of this scale will take more than words or token gestures.

Earlier this week, the All Parliamentary Party Group on Alcohol Misuse asked political parties to commit to 10 actions to help tackle harm caused by alcohol in the UK. The reason this. After smoking, alcohol is the second biggest preventable killer.

I expect most people know that drinking too much can cause liver disease. But how many know that alcohol is linked to over 60 medical conditions?

We need to increase education and understanding around what alcohol contains, the amount of sugar and the calories, along with what alcohol can do to people’s health.

One of the 10 actions recommended by Parliamentarians is to put health warnings and nutritional information on bottles and cans of booze.

The committee’s chairwoman, Tracey Crouch, said: “Getting political parties to seriously commit to these 10 measures will be a massive step in tackling the huge public health issue that alcohol is.”

I was also interested in the response of a Government spokeswoman who said in response to the report: “We are taking action to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and to give people better information about the impact drinking can have on your health.

“Through our Responsibility Deal, the drinks industry has committed to putting unit and health messages on 80 per cent of all bottles and cans. And we have banned alcohol sales below the level of duty plus VAT to tackle the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol.”

The reason is this. Health warnings alone won’t change people’s behaviour or make a dent in the £21bn bill Britain pays each year for alcohol misuse and which is exacerbating the daily pressures faced by GP surgeries and hospitals around the country.

The other recommendations include calling for the tightening of alcohol advertising regulations and a phased ban on alcohol sponsorship, an increase in funding for treatment and access to help for hazardous and dependent drinkers, as well as the introduction of minimum unit pricing.

Incidentally, a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would not affect moderate drinkers or those who buy a bottle of good wine now and again.

A study published by Southampton University earlier this month found that people with alcohol-related cirrhosis were buying the cheapest booze they could find, paying around 33p per unit, while low risk moderate drinkers paid on average £1.10 per unit.

Professor Nick Sheron, from the University of Southampton, commented at the time: “Setting a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol is an almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected. Our research shows that an MUP set at 50p per unit would affect the liver patients killing themselves with cheap alcohol 200 times more than low risk drinkers.

“Alcohol sold to heavy drinkers provides three-quarters of the profits of the UK drinks industry, of which alcohol sold to very heavy drinkers provides one third. When the government says it is concerned about the impact of MUP on moderate drinkers, they are simply repeating propaganda which has been put out by the drinks industry to try and preserve the huge profits they are making from people drinking at really dangerous levels.”

Perhaps you are a bit worried about your drinking and wondering what you could do to make a difference?

First, know the recommended safe limits. A few beers after work or a few glasses of wine too often can take you over safe limits and store up health problems for the future. Men shouldn’t have more than three to four units a day (that’s a couple of pints of normal strength beer) and for women it’s two to three units a day (roughly an average sized glass of wine). Everyone should have at least two or three days off alcohol a week.

Doctors tell us how important it is to give your body a rest from the toxins in alcohol. This is why Alcohol Concern runs the Dry January campaign to urge people to give up alcohol for a month. Of the 17,312 people who took part in Dry January this year, 81 per cent said they would now continue to reduce the amount they drink.

People also said they lost weight, had more energy, saved money, slept better and altogether felt good about themselves for staying off the booze for 31 days.

Is it a challenge you could take up? Contact us at dryjanuary@alcoholconcern.org.uk.

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