Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Scotland must do more to turn tide of alcohol harm

Health campaigners warn the next phase of Scotland’s alcohol strategy must contain bold action to reduce the availability and marketing of alcohol.

A report published today by Alcohol Focus Scotland, BMA Scotland, SHAAP and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs contains a comprehensive set of policies aimed at curbing Scotland’s alcohol problem and addressing the associated health inequalities.

The report precedes the publication this summer of the Scottish Government’s ‘refresh’ of its 2009 strategy, Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action.

Read Changing Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol: Recommendations for further action (PDF)

Scotland continues to have the highest level of alcohol consumption and harm in the UK. One million Scots drink above the recommended guidelines, and 22 Scots die because of alcohol every single week – twice the rate of the 1980s. The Scottish Government has cut direct funding for alcohol and drug prevention, treatment and support services by 22%, leaving the NHS to plug the gap.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Implementing a 50p minimum unit price as soon as possible
  • Developing a strategic approach to reducing the availability of alcohol, and improving existing licensing regulation
  • Reducing exposure of children to alcohol advertising and sponsorship
  • Protecting every child’s right to an alcohol-free childhood
  • Clearer information for consumers about the health risks associated with drinking
  • More investment in alcohol prevention, treatment and support services

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:

“Scotland is awash with alcohol. Widespread availability, low prices and heavy marketing are having a devastating effect, not only on drinkers but on their children and families too. Minimum unit pricing will hopefully be introduced next year, but further action is required to turn off the tap of alcohol harm, rather than simply treating the symptoms. This report provides a blueprint which, if implemented, will improve the lives of millions of Scots, make our communities better and safer places to live, and reduce demand on our over-burdened public services.”

Dr Peter Bennie, Chair of BMA Scotland said:

“As doctors we see first-hand the damage that alcohol misuse does to patients and their families. Amongst other conditions it can directly lead to liver disease, damage mental health and significantly increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. At a time when NHS resources are stretched like never before, we simply cannot afford to continue the cycle that sees major pressures unnecessarily put upon the health service as a result of alcohol.

“It is essential that as a society we redouble our efforts to tackle Scotland’s damaging relationship with alcohol. The proposals we are jointly publishing today will be the yardstick against which the Scottish Government’s willingness to go further will be measured and show how we can build upon the work that has already been done to reduce the harms that are caused by alcohol misuse in Scotland.”

Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said:

“The 2009 Alcohol Strategy bravely championed actions on price, availability and marketing as ‘best buys’, recognised by the World Health Organization to reduce the unnecessary suffering and deaths caused in Scotland because of an alcohol market that has been balanced in favour of companies’ profits, rather than protecting Scots’ health. There is no room for complacency when our alcohol harm statistics remain appalling. The health community is urging the Scottish Government  to re-commit its efforts and resources over the longer term  to support evidence-based policies that will save Scottish lives, even where the vested interests of multi-national companies range themselves, with no sense of shame, in opposition to this.”

John Holleran, Development Officer at Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs said:

“This report presents a prime opportunity for the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to develop renewed actions to counter the alcohol-related harms still experienced by many families and communities across Scotland.  It provides welcome recognition of the vital role that families play; in helping individuals towards treatment and sustainable recovery, as a force for positive change at a time when alcohol availability and marketing is so prominent within our society.”