The Health Committee launched a comprehensive attack on the drinks industry, accusing it of having more influence on government policy than health experts. The report sought to undermine the industry case against greater government controls and put forward “a radical overhaul of alcohol policy”.
Among the policy recommendations are tough new advertising rules. The Committee said the current system of controls is “failing the young people it is intended to protect”.
On that basis the report called for several changes including a nine o’clock watershed on alcohol TV ads and a ban on advertising alcohol via any medium when over 10 per cent of the audience is under 18. The current figure is 25 per cent.
To oversee such rule changes the report also recommended tighter and totally independent regulation of alcohol promotion. Currently regulatory responsibilities are shared between the Advertising Standards Authority and the Portman Group, both of which are funded by industry.
MPs also called for a rise in the duty on spirits and industrial white cider. Defending the policy suggestion, the report described as a “myth” the suggestion that increased duty would penalise moderate drinkers.
The drinks industry has long attacked minimum pricing, and higher duty, on this basis that it punishes sensible drinkers needlessly. In his reaction to the Health Committee report, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association CEO Jeremy Beadles said: “This Select Committee report is just part of the concerted campaign by elements of the health lobby for a range of policies which will punish millions of hard-working people while doing nothing to tackle the problem few.”
The problem few
On this last point, Beadles cited government statistics indicating that 7 per cent of the population drinks 33 per cent of the alcohol in the UK. Both the Committee MPs and the WSTA are agreed that this “problem few” exist, but they differ on the interpretation of the facts.
The MPs say the drinks industry is an interested party, dependent on hazardous and harmful drinkers for three-quarters of its sales and that if people drank responsibly, alcohol sales would plummet by 40 per cent.
But Beadles proposes a different reading of the data. He said: “We should be focusing our efforts on tackling problem drinkers rather than punishing the many.
“What’s needed is tough action against those who misuse alcohol with help for those who have a genuine health problem and mandatory school education about alcohol so that people understand the risks.
“Let’s focus our efforts on policies which make a difference rather than pursue a mantra of price rises and bans which will not address the root causes of alcohol misuse.”