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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 05:57 GMT
Campaigners want alcohol tax rise
Alcohol
Excessive drinking is as serious as drug use, the Alliance says

Taxes on alcohol should be increased and advertising restrictions should be tightened, according to a new group of 24 leading health organisations.

The Health Alcohol Alliance says 13 children are admitted to hospital every day as a result of Britain's growing alcohol misuse.

It wants TV adverts for alcohol banned before 9pm and stronger health warnings to be placed on promotional material.

Ministers said concerted action was planned to address alcohol problems.

The Alliance has been formed by medical organisations and charities to increase pressure on the government to curb excessive drinking and provide more resources for alcohol-related health problems.

It calls for the government to adopt a twin strategy of increasing tax and reducing the easy availability of alcohol.

If you look at the burden of damage to society, it's hugely greater for alcohol than for drugs.
Professor Ian Gilmore
Royal College of Physicians

The Alliance says increasing the price of alcohol by 10% could cut all alcohol-related deaths by between 10% and 30%.

Its get tough on alcohol message is echoed in a report published on Tuesday by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which also proposes raising prices and restricting pub opening hours.

The charity Alcohol Concern said the price of all alcohol in shops has barely changed since the mid-1990s - with some wines and lagers becoming cheaper.

At the same time licensing laws have been relaxed, allowing longer opening hours for many pubs and bars.

Any move to increase taxes on alcohol is likely to meet with strong resistance from industry groups.

Even before the launch of the Alliance, five drinks industry bodies have written a joint letter warning that the campaign could make matters worse, based on the experiences of other countries.

And the British Beer and Pub Association says the UK has the second highest level of taxation on alcohol in Europe, and raising prices through higher taxes would restrict consumer choice.

Graph showing excise duty on wine in Europe

But Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the Health Alcohol Alliance, said it was time to treat alcohol in a similar way to drugs.

"If you look at the burden of damage to society, it's hugely greater for alcohol than for drugs," he said.

"But the majority of money has always gone on drugs, partly because of the strong link to crime."

Hard to get help

Professor Gilmore said that, in some parts of the country, doctors find it hard to get help for patients with alcohol-related problems, even though two thirds of people with a drug problem can access specific services.

He said the Finnish experience - where health problems soared after alcohol tax was cut by 40% - showed a hike in taxes was likely to have a positive effect.

The number of alcohol-related deaths has more than doubled from 4,144 in 1991 to 8,386 in 2005.

You have got to have strong messages, making sure that people understand the harm it causes to them
Dawn Primarolo
Public health minister

There has also been a substantial increase in the number of people suffering serious disease, such as the permanent scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis.

The Alcohol Health Alliance says the government should no longer rely on voluntary agreements with the alcohol industry to curb potentially harmful practices.

Government strategy

The government has recently beefed up its Home Office target for reducing harm from alcohol.

It has also introduced a cross-departmental Alcohol Strategy.

This includes a public information campaign to promote sensible drinking, an independent review of alcohol pricing and promotion, toughened enforcement of underage sales by retailers and plans to introduce more help for people who want to drink less.

Dawn Primarolo, the public health minister, said the government had introduced a comprehensive strategy to tackle problem drinking.

She said tax on alcohol in the UK was already the second highest in Europe, and only about 1% of pubs had extended opening hours since extended licensing laws were introduced.

A bigger problem was the discounting of prices by supermarkets and off licences.

She said: "We're looking at where it's available, who it's available to, how it's being marketed, what the targeting is and what we can do to give clear messages and to make those who are selling it responsible."

Graph showing cost of alcohol against drink-related deaths
Cost of beer/wine has remained relatively constant since 1996, but in reality has become more affordable as income has increased.
Standardised death rates per 100,000 not available for 2006



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