Better policy and regulation

Good, evidence-based policy can make a difference to millions of real lives, and is essential to positive change.

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Evidence-based policy

We believe that all policy should be informed by the evidence; we avoid and indeed challenge policy proposals based on ideology. Policy is a key driver in reducing alcohol harm and the evidence is relatively clear on the most effective areas of intervention.

The price of alcohol, and particularly its affordability relative to income, is one fundamental influence on consumption levels, and consumption levels have a knock-on effect on alcohol harm. Broadly speaking, when alcohol is more affordable, consumption increases, and harm increases. We know this is not a simple equation: different consumers respond in different ways to price changes; people can switch from one product or brand to another if prices shift; and responses to price vary depending on how heavy someone’s drinking is. These complexities matter, and we think they should be explored and understood. Nevertheless, price is a prime example of an influencing factor that, through taxation or other pricing policies, governments are able to influence.

For too long, alcohol policy has been focused on achieving economic benefits, working in the interests of the alcohol industry and its profits.

The availability of alcohol is also critically important. Where alcohol is more easily accessible, it is more likely to be consumed in higher quantities. Again, we recognise this is a complex relationship: demand can drive supply, just as increased supply can stimulate demand. Through the licensing system, however, local authorities have the power to shape the local alcohol market and help to reduce the harms associated with it. There is increasing evidence that where licensing is applied more firmly to reduce the density of alcohol outlets, to regulate hours of sale, or to ensure that the trade is well-managed, harms measurably reduce.

For Government, balancing the interests of business with the public good can be difficult. But failing to act to reduce alcohol harms is a false economy, and the evidence on this is clear.

Improving regulation

For too long, alcohol policy has been focused on achieving economic benefits, working in the interests of the alcohol industry and its profits. We don’t view the alcohol industry as inherently bad. However, the interests of the alcohol industry are unlikely to be identical to those of people who wish to reduce harm, especially as around a quarter of alcohol industry revenues come from just 4% of the population – the very heaviest drinkers.

While deregulatory approaches may encourage some producers and retailers to attempt to reduce alcohol harm, there is an accountability gap. When governments step back too far, some producers and retailers will inevitably focus on increasing their profits at the expense of reducing alcohol harm.

One area where this is particularly relevant is alcohol marketing. The sale of alcohol happens in particular contexts, not in a vacuum – and marketing and promotion are key elements of that context.

While alcohol advertising is clearly, in part, about promoting specific products and encouraging brand loyalty, the cumulative effect of the millions of pounds spent annually on alcohol promotion is to create an environment in which alcohol is associated with more and more aspects of everyday life, indeed with almost every occasion. At the same time, non-drinking is continuously de-normalised.There is also evidence that young people are especially liable to be influenced by alcohol marketing. On social media especially, alcohol marketing – often in the guise of competitions, sponsored events, or promoted posts – weaves alcohol into the fabric of daily experience.

Consistent, common sense and effective regulation of the alcohol industry would reduce alcohol harm.

Our current regulatory structures, designed as they were in the ‘broadcast’ era of media communications, are totally inadequate to deal with the challenges presented by digital communications. Significant change is needed to bring the marketing of alcohol under better control and to ensure that that the interests of alcohol brands do not take precedence in the regulatory landscape.

Consistent, common sense and effective regulation of the alcohol industry would reduce alcohol harm.

Our role

We are committed to the promotion of evidence-informed policy-making, and to the robust evaluation of policies once they are in place. While we recognise that policy-makers have a range of considerations, and that alcohol involves an array of interested parties and stakeholders, we see our role as promoting the evidence in that context.

Policy-making is complex, especially where alcohol is concerned. Decisions made by central Government do not always translate into action on the ground. In the case of alcohol licensing especially, it is at the most local levels that policy is shaped and has its impact. We work to ensure, therefore, that both central and local government apply the evidence in their decision-making, as well as commissioners of treatment services, the police, local planning, and all the other local stakeholders with a role in reducing alcohol harms.

Policy change does not come easy. Governments are buffeted by events, but also subject to enormous pressure from powerful interests. The alcohol industry has long carried enormous economic weight across a whole range of central government departments.

But when arguments are made well, bringing the best evidence to bear, change is possible. Our approach is to seek partnership with Government: to use the evidence, to be constructive, to avoid confrontation for the sake of it, and to recognise that change may come in small steps as well as large. At the same time, we are persistent, determined and ambitious for change.

For Government, balancing the interests of business with the public good can be difficult. But failing to act to reduce alcohol harms is a false economy, and the evidence on this is clear.

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The Alcohol Change Report

Read the report for more on alcohol in the UK today, the key changes we need to work towards, and references.

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