New drink-code shunned by health-bodies

New drink code shunned by six key health bodies Source – The Guardian Six health-organisations have walked away from the government’s ‘responsibility deal’ on alcohol, saying that Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has allowed the industry to drive through a series of insignificant pledges that will do nothing to reduce drink-related illness and deaths.

The deal, due to be announced on Tuesday, will see supermarkets, pubs and drinks-manufacturers pledge to do their bit to reduce harmful drinking, such as labelling bottles and cans with the number of alcohol units. Other pledges will be made by the food and fitness industries. Health representatives on the alcohol panel, which has been meeting for several months, say the government listened to industry and refused to allow issues that could make a difference, such as price and promotion to children, to be discussed. The Royal College of Physicians, the British Liver Trust, the British Association for the Study of the Liver, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, the British Medical Association and Alcohol Concern have written to Lansley, rejecting a deal that they say: Prioritises the views of industry.

Health groups’ proposals for bans on price-based advertising and cinema advertising during under-18 films, and health warnings on bottles and cans, were all turned down. Aims to “foster a culture of responsible drinking” – not tackle illness and death. Does not provide any way of measuring the success of the pledges. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol to the Royal College, said it was perfectly appropriate for government to take the economic impact of any policy into account, but “it is not acceptable for the drinks industry to drive the pace and direction that such public health policy takes.” The pledges would not give doctors, “who see the rising tide of health harm from drink in their daily practice, any confidence that they will get to the core of how we reverse this entirely preventable cause of illness and death”. Lansley has said there will be a government alcohol-strategy later in the year. But the six organisations say they have seen no evidence that the government is working towards “a comprehensive, cross-departmental strategy to reduce alcohol harm, based on evidence of what works, with rigorous evaluation”.

They also complain that government has not committed to any alternative actions – such as legislation – if the pledges fail to cut alcohol-related harm. Lansley said: “We have made clear from the start that the responsibility deal is just one strand of the government’s wide public health policy. It explicitly excludes cost and price competition to avoid conflicts of interest. The Treasury have already announced a new tax on super-strength beers; the Home Office have made their announcement on a ban in sales of alcohol below cost and plans to tighten licensing laws; and our public health strategy sets out how local areas will be given a ring-fenced public health budget to ensure alcohol misuse gets the priority it deserves. In tandem to this action, the responsibility deal is working with the industry on voluntary agreements to get speedier results. For example, to improve unit labelling. The Responsibility Deal has achieved more in the last six months than the previous Government’s Coalition for Better Health did in a year and a half. What is more, this is only the first step” Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said there was “a fundamental conflict of interest” for industry, whose objective is to sell more alcohol, sitting on a panel with the aim of reducing alcohol harm. “We know that the most effective measure we could be taking is to cut total population consumption and the drinks industry are never going to do that. Our fundamental concern is that they are sitting at a policy-making table here.

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