Health bodies slam ‘toothless’ alcohol policy

2011-03-14 11:19

London – Six prominent health organisations withdrew their support today for a government initiative aimed at promoting responsible alcohol consumption, accusing ministers of not standing up to the drinks industry.

The groups, which include charity Alcohol Concern, the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, and the Royal College of Physicians, made their move just a day before the initiative is due to be announced.

Under the government’s “responsibility deal”, details of which are still to be announced, the drinks industry is being asked to voluntarily sign up to a number of pledges aimed at tackling alcohol abuse.

The measures could include ensuring 80% of drinks on sale are labelled for unit content and taking action to reduce underage drinking.

They may also include firms committing to responsible advertising and cutting down on marketing campaigns near schools.

But the health groups said the deal was not specific enough, lacked teeth and allowed the industry to dictate policy.

“We have not yet seen evidence that government is working towards a comprehensive, cross-departmental strategy to reduce alcohol harm, based on evidence of what works, with rigorous evaluation metrics,” they said in a joint statement.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said it was the “worst possible deal for everyone” who wants to see alcohol harm reduced.

“There are no firm targets or any sanctions if the drinks industry fails to fulfil its pledges. It’s all carrot and no stick for the drinks industry and supermarkets.”

He added: “By allowing the drinks industry to propose such half-hearted pledges on alcohol with no teeth, this government has clearly shown that when it comes to public health its first priority is to side with big business and protect private profit.”

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, said the government had “talked the talk” but fell short on tough action.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley rejected the criticism saying it was just one strand of public health policy.

He said the government had already announced a new duty on super-strength beers and plans to tighten licensing laws.

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