BMA Scotland Response to the Scottish Government's Proposed Strategy to Tackle Alcohol Misuse

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 22 2008 5:38 PM

Doctors today (Wednesday 20 August 2008) called for action, not words, to tackle alcohol misuse in Scotland.

The BMA Scotland response to the Scottish Government’s proposed strategy to tackle alcohol misuse, argues that voluntary measures have failed* and states that legislation and practical action is now required.

Dr Peter Terry, Chairman of BMA Scotland said: “Doctors witness first hand how alcohol misuse destroys lives. The facts are simple - voluntary measures implemented by the drinks industry are not effective and do not reduce the damage of alcohol misuse in Scotland. The Scottish Government must re-evaluate its relationship with the drinks industry which clearly has a conflict of interest and is flouting the current voluntary measures. Government must combat the devastation that alcohol misuse has on Scotland’s population. We therefore need to step up, legislate and take action.

“The illegal purchase of alcohol by young people is a significant problem in the UK. Excessively cheap promotions are particularly likely to fuel heavy drinking and alcohol related crime and disorder. This explains why the BMA supports actions to address the promotion, price and access to alcohol. But we must remember that no single policy will solve the problem.

“If the Scottish Government wants to tackle Scotland’s drinking problem, it needs a comprehensive strategy that is fully resourced and followed through. We need to let retailers and the drinks industry know we mean business. Selling to alcohol to under-18s and irresponsible alcohol promotion will not be ignored in Scotland any longer.”

Key details from the BMA’s response include:

• Promotions: The BMA welcomes regulations to end irresponsible promotional activities such as deep discounting, loss leading and ‘two-for-one’ offers. These practices encourage excessive drinking and retailers must be more responsible about how they market alcohol, due to the health damage excessive drinking can cause. Restricting displays promoting the sales of alcohol would also be welcomed by the BMA.

• Pricing: Evidence shows that heavy drinkers and young drinkers are particularly responsive to price. The BMA therefore welcomes efforts to address the pricing of alcohol to discourage excessive drinking. Prices should increase in direct correlation to the alcohol content of each product to provide a clear message on the dangers of excessive intake of high alcohol content drinks. The pricing scheme should apply equally to all premises selling alcohol and the prices should be set by Scottish Ministers, rather than people within the industry.

• Raising the age: We welcome the debate over whether the purchase age for off-sales should be raised to 21. Although the BMA does not have specific policy in this area, we believe that action on underage sales should focus on enforcing responsible serving practices and restrictions on marketing and advertising.

• Access: Access to alcohol is an important determinant of alcohol use and misuse. The BMA agrees with separate checkouts for alcohol sales in supermarkets and calls for tougher enforcement of the legal age for purchasing alcohol. Penalties should be used for breach of licence and enforcement agencies should be adequately funded and resourced to effectively carry out their duties.

The response also welcomed plans to continue to press the UK Government to reduce the limit of drink driving to no more than 50mg/100mls and introduce random roadside breath tests. Doctors have a key role to play in brief interventions and would welcome involvement in the development of this area.