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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
English 'booze culture' targeted
Women drunk in the street in Bristol
English drinking culture is the root cause of problems, says the report
Ministers want to change the "English drinking culture" and the willingness to accept drunkenness and anti-social behaviour as a "normal" part of life.

The strategy seeks to promote sensible attitudes to alcohol, as the estimated bill from drink-related health, crime and disorder problems reaches 20bn.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said he wanted to change the view it was "acceptable to drink to get drunk".

As well as binge-drinkers, it will also target older people who drink at home.

Three groups

The campaign will seek to alert, for the first time, those who enjoy a bottle or two of wine at home most evenings of the possible long-term health risks.

Health minister Caroline Flint denied they were targeting "middle-aged, middle-class hardened drinkers", but said: "There are people, adults, who on a very regular basis are probably drinking twice the amount that is recommended."

Bar chart showing adult drinking behaviour

The 10m national alcohol strategy also launches a review into happy hours and drink promotions and calls for all areas to draw up local plans to cut problem drinking.

This will help target young people who were "going out to get drunk" at weekends, leaving themselves vulnerable, causing trouble and risking long-term health problems.

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The government wants to see a change of attitude, similar to that which happened towards drink-driving.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker added: "It is unacceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on.

"It's almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk and we want to change that attitude."

Dependent drinkers

The report, an update on the government's first alcohol strategy in 2004, said there were 7.1m "hazardous and harmful" drinkers in England, costing the health economy 1.3bn.

Another 1.1m "dependent drinkers" cost 403m, it said.

The strategy, drawn up by the Home Office and the Department of Health, backs further crackdowns on people selling alcohol to under-18s.

Drinks will be labelled according to alcohol units from 2008

It says parents should look at their own drinking habits, to see if they are setting a good example, and urges friends and relatives of problem drinkers to "exert influence" to help them cut down.

Since 2004 licensing laws have changed, with critics saying the changes have opened the door for round-the-clock drinking, while ministers stress new powers to deal with alcohol-fuelled disorder and under-age drinking.

The report said recent consultation said it found a "commonly held belief" that the root cause of problems was the English "drinking culture" and a willingness to tolerate drunkenness.

Referral schemes

The strategy backs more guidance on safe drinking levels for teenagers, parents and teachers, helplines for those who want to cut down, a review of NHS alcohol spending, and tougher punishments for drunken behaviour.

Alcohol referral schemes are also to be introduced for alcoholics, in the same way that drug addicts are sent for compulsory counselling after being arrested.

Until people realise that a bottle of wine a night is damaging to their liver and their general health there will not be a change in behaviour
Alison Rogers
British Liver Trust

But Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said it was important that people involved in alcohol-fuelled crime were not let off with a caution "in exchange for undergoing a course that may not work".

"In any event this is an admission that the government have failed on alcohol abuse," he said.

"They are now acknowledging the serious harm alcohol does both to public health and public safety. If this is the case why did they simply unleash 24-hour drinking on our towns and communities instead of listening to our calls to pilot the scheme so its effects could be properly assessed?"

The national strategy also suggests clearer labelling of calorie content of alcohol, as a further disincentive to heavy drinking.

This week the government announced alcoholic drinks would carry warning labels from 2008, spelling out the number of units contained, as part of a voluntary agreement with the drinks industry.

But it does not include drinks sold by the glass and the British Medical Association does not think they go far enough.

It has called for posters displaying alcohol levels in drinks to be on display in bars.

And Alison Rogers, of the British Liver Trust, added: "Until people realise that a bottle of wine a night is damaging to their liver and their general health there will not be a change in behaviour. "

Alcohol Concern's Frank Soodeen called the strategy a "big step forward", but said more money was needed to treat alcoholics.

Liver expert Professor Roger Williams, who treated the late football star George Best, said labelling should be compulsory, alcohol should be more expensive and the legal age to buy it should be raised from 18 to 21.

Liver specialist on the dangers of excessive drinking

Alcohol health warnings by 2008
28 May 07 |  Health
Call for pub alcohol warnings
04 Jun 07 |  Health


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