Since 2012 the government has been consulting on the Alcohol Strategy.
At the heart of that strategy was a proposal to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP). But it included other elements, too: e.g. a ban on multi-buy promotions in shops and off-licences to reduce excessive alcohol consumption, a review of the mandatory licensing conditions, to ensure that they are sufficiently targeting problems such as irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs. It also proposed that harm to health could be taken into account when authorities were making decisions about the licensing of new premises, and the cutting of red tape for responsible businesses to reduce the burden of regulation.
On Wednesday 17 July, the Government set out its response to the consultation.
To widespread dismay, the Coalition has backed off from the key proposals.
Most important, it has decided not to take forward the proposed Minimum Unit Price of 45p at present. Instead it will ‘keep the policy under consideration’. So that’s kicked into the long grass.
It has also rejected a ban on multi-buy promotions – claiming the evidence that these are harmful is ‘inconclusive’. It has decided that it will not yet include harm to health as a factor in licensing decisions, since the consultation suggested that this would be too difficult to implement. We wonder who they asked?
Public Health England – the body which works to protect and improve the nation’s health – is among many of those who are deeply disappointed by the decisions.
‘There is strong evidence that minimum unit pricing is an effective means of reducing consumption and alcohol-related harm, with the greatest impact being on younger and heavier drinkers.
‘Alcohol is no ordinary commodity – it causes significant health and social harms and consequently there are strong, evidence based arguments that it should be treated differently from other products.’
On adding health as a new licensing objective Public Health England claim, contrary to the Coalition, that the benefits of doing this are ‘supported by good evidence.’
Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE’s Director of Health and Wellbeing said: “From a public health perspective the evidence base for MUP is already strong and growing. Alcohol misuse is a major cause of early death and dysfunction for individuals, their families and the community. There is strong evidence that MUP would make cheap and higher-strength alcohol less available, with the greatest impact being in younger and in heavier drinkers. Six countries including Canada have introduced minimum pricing for alcohol and we are beginning to see significant benefits. PHE will take forward a comprehensive and scientific review of all the available evidence to inform the Government’s final decision on implementation of this measure.”
The Government has decided to leave it to the industry – ‘challenging industry’ is the code word here – to take action.
Not surprisingly, the Chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association ‘welcomed’ the Coalition’s decision.
Bacardi, Beam, and Diageo are all members of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association.
It is, of course, no more than coincidence that they are also members of the Australian Trade body, that that same body employs Lynton Crosby’s lobbying firm – and that it has lobbied strongly and successfully against minimum pricing Down Under.
The decision on cigarette packaging, the back-pedalling on the alcohol strategy – these days the nation’s health seems to be far from the top of the Coalition’s agenda.
Once again David Cameron has questions to answer about the power of the lobbyists, and their influence on that agenda.