Cheap booze on our streets

English | Cymraeg

4 January 2016

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Note: This report was funded and/or written by our predecessor organisation Alcohol Concern.

Introduction

Whilst alcohol consumption has seen a small decline in Wales since its peak in 2004, as a nation we are still drinking too much, more than double the amount we were drinking in the 1950s. According to the Welsh Health Survey 2014, 40% of adults in Wales said they had drank more than the (then) recommended guidelines in the past week, including nearly a quarter who reported binge drinking, significantly increasing their risk of developing alcohol-related conditions including, liver disease and cancer of the breast, mouth and throat.

As a consequence, our health system in Wales has been put under enormous pressure: according to a report by the Public Health Wales Observatory, Welsh hospitals handle as many as 1,000 admissions related to alcohol each week and which represent “only the tip of an iceberg which includes many more presentations at emergency departments, ambulance requests and GP appointments, all resulting from alcohol”.

The overall rise in consumption and associated harms has been largely driven by the growing affordability of alcohol, now 54% more affordable than it was 35 years ago when compared with average household income.

Most of this cheap alcohol is sold in the off-trade (such as supermarkets and off-licences), where alcohol is routinely offered at reduced prices to attract people into stores. Typically, it is heavier drinkers who favour low price alcohol most, meaning that it is the cheapest alcohol on the market that is bought and consumed in the greatest quantities, and therefore causes the greatest harm.

Alcohol Concern has been campaigning for several years for a minimum unit price to be introduced in Wales, which would set a baseline price below which alcohol could not be sold. Modelling work undertaken by the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group for the Welsh Government has concluded that minimum unit pricing (MUP) would be effective in reducing alcohol harms, and the costs associated with those harms, without unduly impacting moderate drinkers. The Welsh Government’s Draft Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill proposes the introduction of a 50p per unit minimum price, but much is thought to depend on the outcome of similar plans in Scotland where the legality of MUP is being challenged in the courts by the Scotch Whisky Association.