Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Scotland's alcohol strategy

NHS Health Scotland have published their second annual report on Scotland’s alcohol strategy, the evaluation plan and the analyses of price, consumption, affordability and alcohol-related harms.

They found that the volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland increased between 1994 and 2005, followed by a broadly stable trend to 2009. Analysis of the most recent data shows that per adult sales decreased by 5% between 2009 and 2011. Although a similar decline was observed in England & Wales, the decline between 2010 and 2011 was greater in Scotland. Nonetheless, per adult sales of pure alcohol in Scotland remain a fifth higher than in England & Wales.

The affordability of alcohol has increased by 45% since 1980. Plus, 66% of off-trade alcohol sold in Scotland in 2011 was sold below 50 pence per unit (ppu). This compares with 81% in 2008.

Mortality rates in Scotland are over two and a half times higher than they were in the early 1980s and remain nearly twice as high as those in England & Wales. In addition, alcohol-related harm in Scotland is disproportionately experienced by those from more deprived areas.  In 2011, 50% of prisoners report being drunk at the time of their offence, while alcohol was a known factor in 73% of homicides.

The report concludes:

"Although we are beginning to see improvements, Scotland still has a high level of alcohol-related harm compared to the rest of the UK and Western and Central Europe. Until further work is completed on the wide range of possible explanations, it is not appropriate to draw conclusions as to what factors, or combination of factors, are responsible for the recent improvements identified in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms in Scotland."

Organisations from the drinks industry have used the research to argue that pricing legislation was no longer needed because consumption and sales were falling. Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “This decrease reported here is almost as much the Scottish Government predicated would be achieved by a 50p minimum unit price. The vast majority of Scots must therefore be asking why the government wants them to pay more when progress is being made and family budgets are already stretched.”

However, Clare Beeston, principal public health adviser at NHS Health Scotland, said the figures showed that setting the minimum cost of alcohol at 50p per unit could save lives by making alcohol less affordable. She said: “The analysis supports the well-established relationship between alcohol affordability and consumption, and some of these improvements are likely to be the result of the recession rather than permanent changes in consumption patterns, which history shows tend to reverse when the economy improves."

Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, put it more strongly, she said: “There is indisputable evidence that the price of alcohol matters. Quite simply, if the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol-related harm goes down.  It is disappointing, but not at all surprising, that the global alcohol producers have joined forces to mount a legal challenge. Like their colleagues in the tobacco industry, the global producers oppose any policies that are actually going to be effective in reducing consumption, despite their supposed commitment to tackling alcohol harm.”

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