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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 14:28 GMT
Alcohol taxes 'should increase'
Millions of Britons drink more than they should
Taxes on alcohol should be increased in an effort to encourage people to drink less, according to scientists.

A report by the Academy of Medical Sciences also calls for tighter restrictions on the amount of alcohol Britons can bring in from abroad.

They said urgent action is needed to tackle "runaway alcohol consumption".

Alcohol consumption has increased by 50% since 1970. The government is due to publish a strategy for tackling Britain's booze culture shortly.

'Taking its toll'

The AMS report, called Calling Time, warns that heavy drinking is taking its toll.

It says deaths from cirrhosis of the liver have increased nine-fold since the 1970s. Around 70% of these deaths are caused by too much alcohol.

The country has reached a point where it is necessary and urgent to call time on runaway alcohol consumption
Sir Michael Marmot
It highlights figures showing that heavy drinking costs Britain billions of pounds a year.

The annual cost of alcohol-related crime and public disorder has been estimated at 7.3bn, the cost to employers has been put at 6.4bn and the cost to the NHS is around 1.7bn.

At least 15,000 hospital admissions and one in three visits to A&E are alcohol-related.

The report says making alcohol less affordable is one way of trying to tackle the problem.

It suggests a 10% increase in the price of drink could cut alcohol-related deaths by up to a third.

It calls for EU travel allowances to be changed so that people can only bring less alcohol into the country.

In addition, it says drink driving limits should be lower and there should be a review of alcohol advertising.

"The pleasure alcohol brings has to be balanced against the harms," said Professor Sir Michael Marmot, of University College London and one of those involved in the report.

"A strategic programme is needed now to curb the nation's escalating level of drinking in the interests of both individual and public health.

"The country has reached a point where it is necessary and urgent to call time on runaway alcohol consumption."

The Royal College of Physicians welcomed the report.

"We encourage a wide debate on the policy options of proven benefit, such as increasing price and limiting access, unpalatable to politicians though they may be," said Professor Ian Gilmore, chair of its alcohol committee.

A spokesman for the Treasury said Chancellor Gordon Brown "takes a wide range of factors into consideration" when he decides alcohol tax rates.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Doctors would like to see prices almost doubled"

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