The Portman Group has hit back against a new report which describes the harmful effects of alcohol as a “hidden health crisis”.

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) Commission on Alcohol Harm report says a new Government strategy is required to tackle the issue of alcohol harm, a problem it says has become more urgent amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, who sat on the commission and is chairman of the AHA, said: “When people think about alcohol harm, they often think about liver damage – but its impact goes much further than this. This report highlights the very real ways that alcohol can devastate not just the life of the drinker but those around them.

“If we wish to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic as a healthier society, we must address the ongoing health crisis of alcohol harm.”

But Portman Group chief executive John Timothy said there is little evidence to support the need for the radical measures the AHA would like to see.

He said: “The UK is on an evolving journey in its relationship with alcohol and has made major strides over the past 20 years. Almost four in five UK adults either choose not to drink or stay within the chief medical officers’ low risk guidelines. Underage drinking is also on a consistent downward trend and almost all measures of alcohol-related harm are in decline.

“The small minority of people that persistently misuse alcohol need targeted support to break the damaging cycle of dependency. That is a difficult but important task that has the industry’s full support. But it cannot be used to justify a tranche of new measures that would disproportionately penalise ordinary men and women who enjoy a drink and do so responsibly.”

The Portman Group noted that over the last decade there has been an overall downward trend for irresponsible consumption and many alcohol-related harms across the UK, reflecting a wider cultural shift towards responsible drinking habits.

This includes declining UK consumption of alcohol. Since 2004, recorded annual alcohol consumption per capita in the UK has fallen by 13%. (WHO). In addition, the proportion of British adults who binge drink has fallen and between 2007 and 2017 this dropped by 20%.

And the Group also noted underage drinking has fallen with the proportion of pupils in England who drink at least once a week down by 73% between 2006 and 2014.

Timothy also noted that fears lockdown and the subsequent reopening of pubs and bars would fuel an increase in drinking “were unfounded”.

He said: “Our polling, amongst others, shows that the vast majority of Brits are continuing to drink moderately and within Government low risk guidelines of 14 units a week.”