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Portman Group ‘deeply disappointed’ at alcohol reduction pledge reception

By Ben Bouckley , 19-Jul-2012
Last updated the 19-Jul-2012 at 14:41 GMT

While it welcomes a new UK parliament alcohol strategy, influential industry body the Portman Group said it was 'deeply disappointing' that the committee that wrote it did not appreciate the significance of an 'innovative unit reduction pledge'.

Published today, the Health Select Committee’s ‘Government Alcohol Strategy’ primarily targets binge drinking and resulting anti-social behaviour, setting strategies to address these issues.

But it said the alcohol industry needed to acknowledge that its advertising messages affected attitudes to alcohol and consumption, if industry wished to be a serious partner in the Responsibility Deal, a voluntary agreement launched in March 2011 whereby businesses take responsibility for improving UK public health.

The committee also believes that alcohol advertising rules should be re-examined to reduce the likelihood of adverts being seen by or directed at young people under 18.

Stephen Dorrell, MP, who chaired the committee, added: The committee supports the decision to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, but the government needs to recognise that setting the price is not a one-off event.

“A transparent process must be put in place in order to ensure that the price level is evidence-based and is monitored over time to assess its effectiveness.”

Alcohol unit reduction pledges

The Portman Group – supported by AB InBev, Carlsberg UK, Diageo, Heineken UK and others – is a drinks industry-funded vehicle to promote social responsibility regarding alcohol.

CEO Henry Ashworth said the Portman Group welcomed the committee’s view that the majority of people enjoyed alcoholic products responsibly, and said producers and retailers were “vital partners in helping to tackle the harms caused by misuse”.

Ashworth said his body fully supported recommendations that locally led alcohol partnerships were the best solution for tackling local alcohol misuse issues.

But Ashworth said the Portman Group the committee’s limited regard for industry’s alcohol unit reduction pledges – for instance, cutting wine strength from 14% to 12%, announced by the UK Department of Health on March 23, was deeply disappointing.

Fear of vested interest

Ashworth said: “Whilst we are pleased the committee commends the Responsibility Deal approach, it is deeply disappointing that they have failed to understand the significance of the innovative unit reduction pledge.

“[This was] supported by all major producers, retailers, and leading wholesalers who have committed to lower the alcohol content of leading brands, and introduce new ranges of lower alcohol products,” he added.

Professor Ian Gilmore, RCP special advisor on alcohol and chair of the alcohol health alliance, warned of a conflict of interest if the drinks industry and retailers’ were given a role in setting alcohol policy.

“I have always had concerns about industry getting round the table to discuss how you produce a public health strategy for alcohol,” Gilmore told the committee.

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