The national alcohol strategy in the hands of the drink industry

The long-delayed national alcohol policy will be dictated by
the drink industry. This is the accusation levelled at the Government by
the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

In the edition of Alert No 2 2002 published today the IAS says
that responsibility for the strategy has been taken from the Department
of Health, where it has been for four unproductive years, and handed to
the Cabinet Office’s Strategy Unit, the equivalent of hitting it “into
the long grass”.

The decision was announced in the House of Commons by Douglas
Alexander, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, who said that “the
Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has asked the Strategy Unit to carry out a
project looking at how to tackle the problems associated with alcohol
misuse”.

An influential House of Lords committee recently accused the
Government of being too much influenced by the industry and its
mouthpiece, the Portman Group. The language of the Strategy Unit’s
“scoping note”, says the IAS, confirms this, emphasising at the outset
the industry’s line that alcohol problems are confined to a tiny
minority.

Alert points out that there has been no explanation why it has
taken four long years to come to the conclusion that there are, in the
words of the scoping note, “significant issues which cut across a number
of policy agendas and need co-ordinated action from Government and
service deliverers”. This should have been evident to ministers as it
was a conclusion reached by the Conservative Government in 1988, when it
set up the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Alcohol Misuse.

One explanation is that the national strategy, as it was
taking shape in Alan Milburn’s Department, was too public health driven
and likely to run contrary to the interests of other “stakeholders”,
including, as confirmed by a spokesman for the Strategy Unit, the
commercial interests of the drink industry.

There is no doubt that these developments will strengthen
suspicions that the drink industry has succeeded in ensuring that any
national strategy will not reduce alcohol consumption and therefore will
make little impact on the level of alcohol problems.

Further information from:

Institute of Alcohol Studies on: (01480) 466766