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Ministers urged to focus on alcohol health impact

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Government plans to tackle problems with alcohol usage are too focused on public order problems and not enough on health issues, MPs said.

The government’s alcohol strategy - which suggests that there should be a minimum alcohol unit pricing in England - lays too much weight on binge drinking and its subsequent anti-social behaviour and public disorder, according to a health committee report.

There must be a greater emphasis on the health issues arising from chronic alcohol misuse, the Committee said.

“The main focus of the strategy is the need to address public order issues,” the report says.

“We agree that these are important, but we believe that the health impact of the misuse of alcohol is more insidious and pervasive.”

Conservative committee chair Stephen Dorrell said the report sought to “move the argument forward beyond that public order issue to the broader health implications of alcohol and in particular of long term consumption of alcohol above safe levels”.

The British Medical Association urged policy makers not just to focus on binge drinking.

BMA’s director of Professional Activities Dr Vivienne Nathanson said: “While the BMA believes there are a number of positive aspects in the government’s alcohol strategy, principally the aim to tackle the availability and price of alcohol, we agree with the health committee that the wider health issues associated with drinking too much need more attention.

“The scale of alcohol consumption in England causes significant medical, psychological and social harm and places a huge burden on the NHS.

“This is not caused by binge drinkers alone but is a result of the high level of consumption across the population.”

The Committee did welcome plans to set a floor price for alcohol.

But is said that there needs to be more evidence about the effects of such a measure.

The report cautions that setting a minimum price will not just be a one off event adding: “Once a minimum price is introduced, if it is judged to be successful, the level will need to be monitored and adjusted over time.”

The report criticised the government for not indicating what it intends to do other than to consult on the price. The Home Office said that a consultation will be launched later this year on the subject of minimum pricing.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are committed to tackling the serious problem of alcohol misuse and we are pleased that the committee supports many of the measures in our strategy.

“The introduction of a minimum unit price has the backing of the medical community including the Royal College of Physicians and could mean around 900 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year by the end of the decade.

“Through our Alcohol Strategy we want to reduce the number of people drinking to harmful levels. We have overhauled the Licensing Act to give more powers to local licensing authorities to tackle problem premises.

“Plans are in place to put a sensible price on drinks through minimum unit pricing and we will consult on introducing a ban on multi-buy promotions. Key evidence behind these measures will be set out when we launch a consultation later this year.”

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