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Cheap alcohol is killing us and our quality of life, says Chief Medical Officer

Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, today published his 2008 Annual Report, in which he called for society to recognise the effect of 'passive drinking' on society. He wants to see a shift in public opinion on alcohol similar to the move to smoke-free public places, so that being drunk is no longer an aim of drinking nor socially acceptable.

In his 2008 Annual Report, On the State of Public Health, England's Chief Medical Officer made recommendations to the Government to tackle alcohol harm, and particularly the collateral damage to society, family members, the NHS, and the economy.

Speaking at the launch, Sir Liam said:

"England has a drink problem and the whole of society bears the burden. The passive effects of heavy drinking on innocent parties are easily underestimated and frequently ignored.

“The concept of passive drinking and the devastating collateral effect that alcohol can have on others must be addressed on a national scale. Cheap alcohol is killing us as never before. The quality of life of families and in cities and towns up and down the country is being eroded by the effects of excessive drinking.”

Society's attitudes to passive smoking have shifted, culminating in the landmark smoke-free legislation introduced in July 2007. In comparison, whilst alcohol consumption has fallen in many European countries since 1970, England's consumption has increased by 40 per cent. The average UK adult consumes the equivalent (in units of alcohol) of 120 bottles of wine a year.

Sir Liam calls for:

  • A national consensus, prompted by government, that as a country we should substantially reduce alchol consumption.
  • Passive drinking to be acknowledged as a key issue. It should present a consolidated rationale for action and be the basis of national campaigns.
  • Licensing laws should reflect the full impact of heavy drinking, making public health considerations central to licensing.
  • A minimum pricing of 50p per unit to be introduced to reduce the consumption of alcohol and its associated harms.

If a 50 pence minimum price per unit policy was introduced this year, substantial effects would be seen immediately, with the full effect seen by 2019. Every year there would be 3,393 fewer deaths, 97,900 fewer hospital admissions, 45,800 fewer crimes, 296,900 fewer sick days, and a total benefit of over £1 billion. Research shows that the impact of price would be greater on heavy drinkers.

Minimum pricing of 50p per unit of alcohol would mean:

  • A 750ml bottle of wine (12% alcohol by volume) could not be sold for less than £4.50.
  • A 700ml bottle of whiskey (40%) alcohol by volume) could not be sold for less than £14.
  • A six-pack of 500ml cans of lager (4% alcohol by volume) could not be sold for less than £6.
  • A 2 litre bottle of cider (5.5% alcohol by volume) could not be sold for less than £5.50.

The full report is available here.