The Labour government in the UK has announced a steep hike in alcohol tax. Though the industry is fuming, doctors and campaigners have welcomed it heartily. If anything liquor ads too should be restricted, they say.
From midnight on Sunday, alcohol duty rates in the country will increase by 6% above the rate of inflation.
AdvertisementAlcohol duties will increase by 2% above the rate of inflation in each of the next four years, Chancellor Alistair Darling has announced.
The rise in duty on spirits come after it was frozen last year for the 10th Budget in a row.
Darling said the rises came in the wake of figures showing that in 1997, the average bottle of wine bought in a supermarket was Ģ4.45 in today's prices.
He said in a supermarket today, the average bottle of wine will cost about Ģ4.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, British Medical Association (BMA) head of science and ethics, said tough action was needed to tackle the UK's binge drinking problem.
She said: "It is very important that tax increases on alcohol are part of a larger plan to reduce problem drinking.
"The evidence tells us that the cheaper and more accessible alcohol is the more people will drink.
"The Government needs to tackle this issue so it's good news that ministers have made a start today.
"These tax increases may be unpopular with some members of the public but we hope that they will look at the wider issue and recognise that the UK has a real problem on its hands regarding alcohol misuse."
Lesley King-Lewis, joint chief executive of the organisation Action on Addiction, said she welcomed the increased tax on alcohol.
She said: "In a society where alcohol can be cheaper than water, where is the incentive to cut back on drinking alcohol excessively?
"Research has shown that many young people and dependent drinkers are more likely to binge-drink with cheap and strong alcohol.
"We know these drinkers are just as responsive to price change as moderate drinkers.
"Action on Addiction welcomes the Government's increased tax on alcohol. Measures that encourage us to consume less beverages with alcohol are vital in reducing harm."
Tax on The Health Alcohol Alliance says 13 children are admitted to hospital every day as a result of Britain's growing alcohol misuse.
It wants TV adverts for alcohol banned before 9pm and stronger health warnings to be placed on promotional material.
Ministers said concerted action was planned to address alcohol problems.
The Alliance has been formed by medical organisations and charities to increase pressure on the government to curb excessive drinking and provide more resources for alcohol-related health problems.
It calls for the government to adopt a twin strategy of increasing tax and reducing the easy availability of alcohol.
The Alliance says increasing the price of alcohol by 10% could cut all alcohol-related deaths by between 10% and 30%.
Its get tough on alcohol message is echoed in a report published on Tuesday by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which also proposes raising prices and restricting pub opening hours.
The charity Alcohol Concern said the price of all alcohol in shops has barely changed since the mid-1990s - with some wines and lagers becoming cheaper.
At the same time licensing laws have been relaxed, allowing longer opening hours for many pubs and bars.
Any move to increase taxes on alcohol is likely to meet with strong resistance from industry groups.
Even before the launch of the Alliance, five drinks industry bodies have written a joint letter warning that the campaign could make matters worse, based on the experiences of other countries.
But Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said: "The millions of people who enjoy beer have just been hit by a Ģ50.5 million a month tax raid on their family budgets.
"By aiming a tax hike at beer, the Chancellor is shooting himself in the foot. Treasury revenues will continue to fall, pubs will continue to close and beer sales sink further."
He added that the Government was punishing "all beer drinkers" rather than tackling the "minority" of drunken hooligans.
But Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the Health Alcohol Alliance, said it was time to treat alcohol in a similar way to drugs.
"If you look at the burden of damage to society, it's hugely greater for alcohol than for drugs," he said.
"But the majority of money has always gone on drugs, partly because of the strong link to crime."
Professor Gilmore said that, in some parts of the country, doctors find it hard to get help for patients with alcohol-related problems, even though two thirds of people with a drug problem can access specific services.
He said the Finnish experience - where health problems soared after alcohol tax was cut by 40% - showed a hike in taxes was likely to have a positive effect.
The number of alcohol-related deaths has more than doubled from 4,144 in 1991 to 8,386 in 2005.
There has also been a substantial increase in the number of people suffering serious disease, such as the permanent scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis.
The Alcohol Health Alliance says the government should no longer rely on voluntary agreements with the alcohol industry to curb potentially harmful practices.
The government has recently beefed up its Home Office target for reducing harm from alcohol.
It has also introduced a cross-departmental Alcohol Strategy.
This includes a public information campaign to promote sensible drinking, an independent review of alcohol pricing and promotion, toughened enforcement of underage sales by retailers and plans to introduce more help for people who want to drink less.
Dawn Primarolo, the public health minister, said the government had introduced a comprehensive strategy to tackle problem drinking.
She said tax on alcohol in the UK was already the second highest in Europe, and only about 1% of pubs had extended opening hours since extended licensing laws were introduced.
A bigger problem was the discounting of prices by supermarkets and off licences.
She said: "We're looking at where it's available, who it's available to, how it's being marketed, what the targeting is and what we can do to give clear messages and to make those who are selling it responsible."
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