Industry hits back at "lazy scaremongering" story that claims alcohol will kill 63,000 people unless affordability, availability and advertising is reduced

24 July, 2017

The public health lobby has called for off-licence hours to be cut to 10am-10pm, the reintroduction of the duty escalator, minimum unit pricing of 50p and tighter regulations on alcohol advertising.

The justification for this fresh list of demands is a study it commissioned from Sheffield University, titled Alcohol and Cancer Trends.

The modelling study was done in 2016 and argues that minimum unit pricing would cut alcohol related deaths and societal costs.

It was published in November last year and covered by The Guardian after Sheffield University’s academics guessed that alcohol-related cancer would kill 135,000 people by 2035.

But to generate new coverage – on the day that the Supreme Court in London commences a two-day hearing of the Scotch Whisky Association case against the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Scotland – the Foundation for Liver Research has created a new report, using the November 2016 study as its basis, and has succeeded in generating plenty of fresh media coverage.

The new report, titled Financial Case for Action on Liver Disease, references the 2016 study to now claim that alcohol will be accountable for 63,000 deaths in the UK in the next five years if the government does not do what the public health lobby is calling for.

It is unclear where the 63,000 deaths figure comes from as that number is not mentioned in the Alcohol and Cancer Trends study. But in the new report by the Foundation for Liver Research, that study is listed as the source for the claim, and it made front page news on The Guardian, before being picked up by The Telegraph, The Mail and more.

To further blur the lines, the new report – Financial Case for Action on Liver Disease – which generated the coverage in the national media, also blames obesity and viral hepatitis for liver related deaths.

Report author Roger Williams says: “Liver disease is a public health crisis that has been steadily unfolding before our eyes for a number of years now and the government will have to take robust action if its main causes – alcohol misuse, obesity and viral hepatitis – are to be controlled.

“Our new report strengthens the argument for intervention by revealing the full and alarming extent of the financial costs associated with inaction in these areas and setting out the economic benefits of addressing these risk factors.”

Sir Ian Gilmore at the Alcohol Health Alliance used the report to reiterate his calls for MUP. “As Scotland appears set to introduce minimum pricing, and with Wales on the verge of legislating for MUP, we urge the UK government to take note of this latest evidence, and to legislate for MUP now,” he told The Guardian. “Given what we know about the effectiveness of MUP, a failure to act on the part of the government will mean that some of the most vulnerable in society will die unnecessarily.”

Meanwhile the Sheffield academics, whose research underpins everything, claim that just 1,150 lives would be saved by MUP, so the 63,000 figure is still unclear.

Industry sources poured scorn on the report, calling it a “classic scare story” gobbled up by “lazy” journalists that could not be bothered to check the facts.

Commentator Paul Chase said: “The ‘soaring alcohol deaths’ headline that appeared in the Guardian and the Telegraph this morning is based on a prediction made by Sheffield University alcohol researchers, who are well known for their anti-alcohol agenda.

“It is a prediction, not a fact.

“This is a classic health lobby scare story repeated by lazy journalists who can’t be bothered to do a bit of fact-checking.

“This headline-grabbing story is cynically designed to coincide with the commencement of a two-day hearing at the Supreme Court in London into the legality of minimum unit pricing.

“As can be seen from the Office for National Statistics information, the number of deaths from alcohol-related diseases is basically stable. It is not soaring, and it remains stable also in terms of the incidence of alcohol-related deaths in the population: at around 14 to 14.3 deaths per 100,000 of the population.

“Most of these deaths occur in people aged between 55 to 65 – indicating that they are the result of persistent alcohol misuse by a tiny minority of drinkers over a lifetime.”

These are the ONS figures for deaths from all alcohol-related diseases:

2011: 8748

2012: 8367

2013: 8416

2014: 8697

2015: 8758

Dave Roberts, director general of the Alcohol Information Partnership, said: “According to Government data, alcohol consumption per capita across the UK has been falling year on year for over a decade and is now at a similar level to 40 years ago. 

“The most recent Government data again shows that the vast majority of people drink within the Chief Medical Officer's guidelines, young adults are drinking less year on year, underage drinking is in decline and alcohol-related crime and disorder is falling.

“There remain some individuals that are causing harm to themselves and others by drinking too much.  

“It is in everyone’s interest to tackle these specific problems and the alcohol industry is committed to targeted partnership projects involving retailers, licensees, charities and the industry to change behaviour and reduce harm. 

“These projects are in part responsible for the welcome changes in excessive consumption and will continue regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on minimum unit pricing or the ever more strident demands for increased prices and restrictions on sales from the anti-alcohol lobby.”




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