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AHA says drinks industry is now using tactics of Big Tobacco against minimum unit pricing

Commenting on the forthcoming launch of the Wine, Spirit and Trade Association campaign against minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol – ‘Why should we pay more?’, Dr Nick Sheron, member of the executive committee of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said:

The drinks industry is now using the tactics of Big Tobacco in trying to undermine evidence-based alcohol policy measures which would save lives and specifically target young and heavy drinkers. A minimum unit price is a targeted policy that will impact heavy drinkers whilst leaving the majority of moderate drinkers unaffected, and the international evidence (from Canada) shows that it works.

The Wine, Spirit and Trade Association campaign outlined the benefits of introducing an MUP:

  • It will save lives – according to research by the University of Sheffield, a 50 pence minimum unit price will prevent more than 3,000 alcohol-related deaths in England each year.
  • It will hit young drinkers and heavy drinkers hardest – the minority of low income drinkers who drink at harmful levels are much more likely to be admitted to hospital or to die from an alcohol related cause, therefore they will benefit from the greatest reduction in health harms as a result of the MUP.
  • Society is already paying for the high economic burden of alcohol misuse to the  NHS, policing costs from violence and anti-social behaviour, and social care costs from family breakdown.
  • Many drinks will not be affected, including those already above the MUP in pubs and clubs,  as this is a targeted measure designed to affect the strongest cheapest drinks and not the vast majority - www.minimumpricing.info.
  • Moderate drinkers will not be affected - Scottish modelling shows that 80% of those on the lowest incomes would be unaffected by MUP.

Dr Sheron said he was also puzzled at the industry’s U-turn on the consequences of introducing a minimum unit price:

Previously, the industry stated that a minimum unit price wouldn’t work, but now they are saying that it will lead to a reduction in consumption with a loss of £200 million a year to the Treasury. This shows that industry should not be involved in decisions affecting public health.

Katherine Brown, Director of Policy at the Institute of Alcohol Studies said:

This initiative is a sinister attempt by the drinks industry and major supermarkets to block a policy that will save lives and prevent crime. To claim to be 'responsible' retailers on the one hand, but sabotage public health initiatives with the other implies that the motives of these organisations are purely profit-centred with no regard for the health and well-being of their customers.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive at Alcohol Focus Scotland

The global producers and supermarkets have spent the last five years trying to prevent minimum pricing being introduced in Scotland. Having failed to do so, they have followed in the footsteps of their colleagues in the tobacco industry and sought to delay this vital health measure by mounting a legal challenge. This latest campaign is yet more evidence that the big alcohol producers and retailers are more interested in protecting their profits than saving lives. Most people will see this latest campaign for what it is – yet another attempt by global producers to bully government into adopting policies that favour narrow business interests at the expense of the protection of our country’s health and well being.

Eric Appleby, Chief Executive, Alcohol Concern said:

This a shameful and cynical attempt by big business to keep a tight grip on their profits at the expense of the health and welfare of the young and the vulnerable, the groups MUP is designed to help.We’ve seen these kinds of tactics of putting profits before people by the tobacco industry and we cannot allow the drinks industry to mislead, bully and spend their way to a policy change.Independent research shows responsible drinkers will notice very little difference under MUP. It is a targeted measure, aimed at protecting vulnerable groups from very strong, very cheap alcoholic drinks.

Notes to editors

  • Organisational members of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK will have some availability for interviews, please contact:
    • For Dr Nick Sheron - RCP Head of PR and public affairs Linda Cuthbertson +44 (0)20 3075 1254 / 07748 777919
    • For Katherine Brown – Institute of Alcohol Studies - +44 (0)20 7222 4001
    • For Evelyn Gillan – Alcohol Focus Scotland – +44 (0)141 572 6700
    • For Eric Appleby - Alcohol Concern, Emma Conroy - +44 (0)207 566 9803 / 0741 5642781
    • For Professor Vivienne Nathanson - British Medical Association, Franca Tranza +44 (0)207 383 6188
  • The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK brings together organisations whose mission is to reduce the damage caused to health by alcohol misuse. Members include medical bodies, charities and alcohol health campaigners.
  • www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/alcohol-health-alliance-uk