Get tougher over alcohol.
HAS the UK Government given up on addressing the harm of alcohol in England and handed the keys to alcohol companies? The recent Panorama featuring Adrian Chiles would suggest so.
In 2012 the UK Government's alcohol strategy recommended new measures to better inform drinkers and tackle the cheapest, strongest alcohol. But this has been quietly shelved, replaced by unproven and ineffective schemes run by the alcohol industry. Would we invite Big Tobacco to run schemes to help people quit smoking and inform policy? The idea would be too toxic to even contemplate.
Tackling cheap alcohol and restricting alcohol marketing are two proven effective ways to reduce alcohol harm. Scotland and Wales are pushing forward with Minimum Unit Price (MUP), but the health secretary refuses to even consider it for England.
Instead, alcohol taxes have been cut repeatedly in real terms since 2012 and alcohol treatment services are struggling to support those suffering the most.
Big alcohol companies won't even provide consumers with information about calories or the most recent health guidelines from UK Chief Medical Officers - and the Government won't make them do it. Drinkers just don't know the true risks, including alcohol's link to cancer. Over 500,000 people in the North East are drinking above 14 units a week with 1 in 10 drinking more than twice that - and yet most believe they are moderate or low risk drinkers.
The result? Deaths and illness from alcohol remain extremely high, with liver disease continuing to rise. Why are drinkers being kept in the dark? We need action now. Pubs in the North East - many of these vibrant community hubs - see cheap supermarket alcohol as their biggest threat. More people support MUP than oppose it, most believe drinks producers should have to provide health warnings, unit content and calorie information on labels.
The current approach is not working. Our experience with smoking shows the health gains when a long-term view is taken and evidence-based policies supported by the public are introduced. Now is the time for the Government to think again and to take our worrying relationship with alcohol seriously.
COLIN SHEVILLS, Director, Balance