Health lobby urged to re-think campaign

10 November, 2007

Five key organisations representing the drinks industry have called for a meeting with the Alcohol Health Alliance to persuade it to change tack on its campaign to tackle alcohol abuse.

The AHA, made up of 21 health lobby groups, is said to be in favour of placing higher taxes on alcohol and increasing health warnings on labels to help bring binge drinking and alcohol abuse under control - moves the drinks industry believes would have the opposite effect.

In an open letter to AHA chairman Ian Gilmore, the group, made up of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, the British Beer & Pub Association, the Gin & Vodka Association, the National Association of Cider Makers and the Scotch Whisky Association, asks the health group to reconsider its campaign.

It says: “In our view, the measures you are seeking would increase the burden on taxpayers, further restrict personal freedoms and limit consumer choice, while at the same time have little or no impact on alcohol misuse. In fact, in some areas it may make the situation worse by encouraging an illicit market in alcohol.”

The drinks group has five key questions it is putting to the AHA:

- If current policies are insufficient, why are the numbers of people drinking in excess of the daily unit guidelines falling?

- If high taxes reduce harm, why does the UK, which has the second highest alcohol tax rates in Europe, have worse drinking behaviours than low tax countries?

- If high taxes reduce harm, why do the high tax countries of Europe have higher levels of binge drinking than the low tax countries?

- If alcohol advertising encourages people to drink more, why has alcohol consumption in the UK fallen for the last two years?

- Rather than call for health warning labels, which is ineffective at reaching those who drink excessively, what are doctors doing to encourage and promote moderate consumption, given those who drink moderately enjoy longer lives than those who drink excessively or don’t drink at all?

“We are challenging some of the basic assumptions at the heart of this campaign,” said Rob Hayward, chief executive of the BBPA. “We do not believe the evidence base supports their call for higher taxes, more regulation and health warnings. Indeed, these concerns are heightened because our experience from around the world, strongly suggests that the measures this lobby group are seeking could make the situation worse. ”

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