Lib Dem Conference Fringe: How to challenge the UK's drinking... Speakers: 25 September 2012

Lib Dem Conference Fringe: How to challenge the UK's drinking culture? (Novares Monitoring)
25 September 2012
Sponsors: Health Hotel - British Society of Gastroenterology, British Liver Trust
Baroness Northover, Government Whip on Health, Justice, and Women and Equalities
Emily Robertson, Alcohol Concern,
Andrew Langford, Chief Executive, British Liver Trust,
Gerry Macgilligan, Chair, Health and Wellbeing Board, Sutton
Doreen Huddart, Councillor, Newcastle
Dr Nick Sheron, British Society of Gastroenterology
Nick Sheron said that he would attempt to explain how alcohol causes health problems. He began
with by outlining the relative risk of liver cirrhosis, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer, related
to alcohol and showed graphs which indicated the impact of alcohol on these conditions. He said
that death attributed to alcohol is likeliest in young people, as they are the biggest binge drinkers.
He added that alcohol is toxic to the liver and causes cancers. He said that there is a substantial
number of people with alcohol addiction at all ages. He noted that alcohol-related deaths peak in
the mid 50s, but nearly one quarter of young people deaths are related to alcohol. This makes
alcohol the biggest killer of young people. Finally, he noted that one fifth of consumers consume
four fifths of alcohol products, and this is where alcohol companies get their money. 75 per cent of
the alcohol sold is consumed by hazardous and harmful drinkers. He said that the drinks industry is
reliant on this, and fully aware of it.
Emily Robertson said that everyone loves to talk about drinking. However, one of the questions
which must be asked is whether the right kind of conversation is taking place. She said that Alcohol
Concern gets its highest number of media request to comment on binge drinking amongst young
people, despite the biggest number of hospital admissions being older people. The second highest
number of request are about women drinking, despite men being the much bigger drinkers. The cost
of older people drinking is much higher than the cost of 16 to 24 year olds drinking. She said that
local authorities can tackle drinking in a variety of way, such as licensing laws, and they can now
include public health in the range of tools. She suggested that local authorities look at their own
work force, and their work force policy. People in work drink more than people who are
unemployed, and there is a correlation between wealth, income and level of alcohol consumption.
She said that price and availability also influences consumption, and she urged Liberal Democrats to
push for tighter regulations. It is not as easy as dismissing excessive drinking as part of the culture,
and said Alcohol Concern would launch a 'dry January' campaign.
Doreen Huddart said that her professional background is in working with drug and alcohol misusers. She said that she would outline the situation in Newcastle. As a city, it lost many of its
traditional industries, and local authorities concentrated on marketing it as a party city whilst it was
being regenerated. She said that the Lib Dems, when coming into power locally in 2004, inherited a
city where older people would not go out and a city centre that people were afraid of. There were
fights, sexual assaults on women and high levels of teenage pregnancy. A series of measures were
brought in, the police were involved, as were third sector organisations and the NHS. She noted a
campaign by police in Newcastle called 'Party's Over', and this has been accompanied by an alcoholeducation programme. Huddert said that there needed to be more awareness about what sensible
drinking looks like. She said that she had seen a vast change over the years in drinking culture.
People now buy cheap alcohol in the supermarket, and then go to pubs and clubs. Supermarkets
have changed people's behaviour. She said that the LGA welcomes the Government's new alcohol
strategy, but it needs a further document to look at treatment facilities.
Baroness Northover said that there had been a significant change over her lifetime. She highlighted
her experiences from her life. Alcohol is the third biggest lifestyle risk factor, and costs the NHS 3.5
billion pounds each year. She said that the Government announced steps to stem the flow of cheap
alcohol, including minimum unit pricing and a ban on multi-buys. Local authorities have also been
given additional powers. The strategy also encourages greater use of intervention by health
professionals. There will be an alcohol check within NHS Check from 2012. The Chief Medical Officer
will oversee a review of alcohol guidelines, and a collective responsibility deal has been announced.
Asked about other alcohol policy ideas, Robertson said that she said that having a water cooler in a
pub could help, as could a ban on sponsorship by alcohol companies of sporting events.
Huddert said that a ban on two-for-one deals and happy hours.
Sheron said that people no longer drink alcohol which they have made themselves. Alcohol is sold to
people by enormous companies with massive political influence. He said that the alcohol strategy is
the first time alcohol policy has been evidence-based, and this is very welcome. He said alcohol is
marketed like any other product is. Alcopops were responsible for doubling the alcohol intake of
school children within two years. Exposure to alcohol marketing is higher for sixteen year olds than
for adults.
Asked about the link between tourism and alcohol consumption, Huddart said Newcastle was seen
as a party city, and had to set out to manage the number of people coming to get to drunk and
disorderly. It is important to get a balance. She said that bars are rewarded for not serving drunks
and there is a strong licensing team. People should be able to enjoy themselves, but should also be
aware that if they get drunk and disorderly, they will be locked up.
On the credibility gap in alcohol-harm statistics, Sheron said that the approach by the alcohol
industry is very similar to the tobacco industry. The alcohol industry spends about 800 million
pounds by year on marketing, whilst the health lobby have 2 to 3 million to spend.
On the possibility for hard-hitting campaigns, Robertson said that it is important to find the right
balance being convincing people and lecturing people. She said that awareness of alcohol's harms is
getting close to that of tobacco.
On political influence from the Liberal Democrats, Northover said that it was the Liberal Democrats
who helped moved alcohol policy from 'nudge' to minimum unit pricing, and that Andrew Lansley
was not particularly interested in it.