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Drinks industry should change way it works to help lower alcohol deaths

Reducing deaths from alcohol-related liver disease need not affect the bottom line of the drinks industry, according to a new article published in Clinical Medicine, the journal of the Royal College of Physicians. Using the example of alcohol policy in France over the last 40 years, the study shows that by improving the quality, but reducing the quantity of wine produced, lives were saved while the industry continued to be profitable.

The article also shows how damaging the alternate ‘quantity’ model has been in the UK and Finland over the same period. As sales have shifted from local pubs to supermarkets and taxes on alcohol have fallen, making alcohol much more affordable, deaths from alcohol-related disease have risen more than fivefold. According to the authors, poor political management of the situation and irresponsible practices by economic operators have exacerbated the situation.

Other policies examined in the article which could help to address the worrying levels of alcohol-related ill health across the EU include a change in taxation policies which see low alcohol wine (and beer) taxed at the same levels as much higher strength drinks. Furthermore, the authors note that there is a need for government-led regulation of the industry's marketing activities, to address both the content and quantity of adverts in circulation.

Despite the overall fall in alcohol consumption in Southern Europe, there is an emerging trend for binge-drinking among younger people in this region. Experts have noted that moves towards marketing strategies that overtly target young people, common in the UK, and the increasing affordability of drinks aimed at young people, have contributed to this pattern.

The lead author, Dr Nick Sheron, commented:

A model of alcohol sales that is focused on selling as much as possible is both irresponsible and in no way sustainable. In France and Italy, demand fell for cheap drink as people realised their friends and relatives were suffering the health consequences of too much alcohol consumption. Both the government and the industry in the UK should learn from the contrasting experiences from across Europe. A proportionate policy response is needed from government, whilst the industry should consider the many ways to ensure that profit making is less damaging to its consumers.