Playing party politics with lives is shameful - blog by lifelinking


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Playing party politics with lives is shameful
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Posted 03-Sep-2010 at 12:03 AM (00:03) by lifelinking
Updated 10-Sep-2010 at 03:03 PM (15:03) by lifelinking (add link to 'Under the Influence' report)

The Scottish Government has unveiled plans to introduce a minimum pricing level on alcohol, of 45 pence per unit. See this report in the Guardian and this from the BBC and this from the official Scottish Government Website.

A briefing paper was produced for the debate in the Scottish Parliament by the British Medical Association in Scotland, SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) and Alcohol focus Scotland (the report is downloadable here).

It contains the following key messages,

• The rise in alcohol related harm is linked to the increased availability, affordability and promotion of alcohol.
• More than a million Scots are drinking hazardously or harmfully.
• One in 20 deaths in Scotland is attributable to alcohol.
• Excessive drinking damages family life and impacts on the health of children
• There is growing international support for minimum pricing of alcohol per unit.
• Minimum pricing will primarily target high strength drinks, sold at the cheapest prices and is likely to have a greater effect on the heaviest drinkers.
The paper also states:

There is international recognition that the rise in alcohol related harm is linked to the increased availability, affordability and promotion of alcohol. As a result of this there is a growing consensus which includes influential groups and organisations such as the UK House of Commons Health Select Committee (January 2010), the WHO in the Global Alcohol Strategy (May 2010) and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (June 2010), that introducing minimum pricing is one of the most effective measures that a government can introduce.
It also highlights the following evidence:

A peer reviewed study published by the University of Sheffield into the effects that minimum pricing would have in Scotland reported that a minimum price of 40p per unit, linked to a ban on promotions would:
• Reduce alcohol consumption by 5.1% with a greater reduction in the heaviest drinkers.
• Reduce alcohol-related deaths by 26 in year one and 119 by year 10.
• Reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions by 640 in year one and 2,230 by year 10.
• Save an estimated £824m over 10 years in harm reduction.
• Cost the average moderate drinker just £10 per annum.
Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Harry Burns, also supports minimum alcohol pricing. Speaking on Scottish Television today he stated:

this is something that can be tried, it can be evaluated, it can be evaluated quickly, and the evidence as I see it is that it would save lives. Why wouldn’t we do that?
Much has been made of a report by an organisation called the Centre for Economics Business Research which was highlighted in the Daily Record. The report claims that the case made in the Sheffield Study was ‘extremely weak’.

The Sheffield Study is a piece of published peer reviewed research carried out at a respected academic institution. The report from the CEBR was commissioned by the drinks company SABMiller. The British Medical Association, SHAAP and Alcohol Focus Scotland stand by the findings of the Sheffield report.

I would also point to Wagenaar A.C., Salois M.J., Komro K.A. (2009) Effects of beverage alcohol price and tax levels on drinking: a meta-analysis of 1003 estimates from 112 studies, Addiction, Volume 104, Issue 2, pages 179–190.

Wagenaar Et Al conducted a systematic review of 112 studies that looked at relationships between alcohol price levels and alcohol sales / self-reported drinking. They found that:

beverage alcohol prices and taxes are related inversely to drinking. Effects are large compared to other prevention policies and programs. Public policies that raise prices of alcohol are an effective means to reduce drinking.
Since minimum alcohol pricing was first discussed in the Scottish Parliament last year, Labour has argued against it. I emailed my constituency MSP Jackie Baillie in November 2009 to register my concern at the Labour stance against the minimum pricing proposal. I advised her that I had carefully looked at research that showed that increasing price is effective in reducing harm from alcohol. I also mentioned that as a youth worker I frequently see young people who, one way or another, are being damaged by alcohol. I urged her to give careful thought to these issues and give consideration to supporting minimum pricing. Disappointingly, she never replied to my email. Even something saying that she disagreed with me and why, might have been nice.

Today, in her capacity as Shadow Secretary for Health, she also spoke on Scottish Television where she stated:

This particular pricing mechanism isn’t right, we think it should be done on the basis of duty across the United Kingdom so that the revenue goes back in to the public purse.
Let’s get this clear. The Scottish Government wants to do this now, and start evaluating it now, and very probably start reducing real harm and saving lives now. As Dr Burns said, why wouldn’t we do that? The Shadow Secretary of Health wants to wait, to see if we might pass UK legislation that is based on a revenue system, so that we might get something, in the long run, maybe. In the briefing paper, specific mention was made of a taxation based intervention:

Alcohol Focus Scotland, BMA Scotland and SHAAP agree that action is required at a UK level to review the current taxation system. However alcohol taxation alone is not sufficient to achieve an effective impact on the public’s health. The evidence on the pricing practices of major grocery retailers in the UK reveals that alcohol is frequently sold at a loss, with many promotional offers throughout the year . An increase in alcohol taxation is not guaranteed to lead to an increase in alcohol prices as major alcohol retailers can and do absorb tax increases and even advertise the fact. Minimum pricing by contrast is a fixed floor that cannot be undercut by loss leading and below cost selling. Evidence also suggests that increasing the price of the cheapest alcohol has a greater public health benefit because cheaper alcohol tends to be bought more by harmful than moderate drinkers. It is estimated that 64% of low-cost alcohol (below 40p a unit) is drunk by individuals consuming between 50 and 35 units weekly. Action on low cost alcohol selectively targets the most harmful drinkers unlike the overall price increases achieved by excise duty increases. An increase in the “floor price” of alcohol has been shown to be the most effective pricing approach in reducing consumption. . This suggests that minimum pricing for alcohol and taxation are complementary mechanisms and that taxation alone is unlikely to achieve the same health benefits.
(The bold type in the above section is my emphasis)

And from the Guardian report.

Jackie Baillie, Labour's shadow health secretary at Holyrood, said the proposal was a "tax on the poor" which would increase revenue for supermarkets by £140m. "The SNP have got this one badly wrong. A minimum price of 45p per unit will make no difference to problem drinks, like Buckfast, but it will punish pensioners and people on low incomes," she said.
Well, let us look at the reality here. The briefing paper points out:

an analysis of drinking patterns in Scotland shows that around 80% of the lowest income quintile either do not drink at all or drink moderately . This means that for 80% of the lowest income quintile, minimum pricing will result in little or no additional expenditure. It is estimated that the extra cost to a moderate drinker of minimum price of 40p/50p combined with an off-trade discount ban is £10/15 per annum, or 19/29p per week.
I wonder what the answer would be, if we asked the average pensioner or punter on a low income if they thought paying 29 pence per week more for their tipple was a price worth paying for reducing the toll of alcohol related suffering and death? And if the punter spends a lot more than that on drink, and therefore has to drink less because of the minimum pricing, well that is sort of the whole point is it not?

Could it be, that it is simply because Labour is in opposition that we are seeing this position being taken? A case of 'if the SNP are for it, we have to be against it'. I am afraid that is what it looks like, and if this is the case, it is indeed shameful.

There is a technique in retail called ‘stack them high and sell them cheap’. This type of high volume selling is pretty innocuous if done with toilet rolls or beans, but disastrous when done with such a powerful drug. In some cases, stores have been selling booze cheaper than bottled water. Alcohol is not just another commodity, and the way it is marketed and sold can and does cause real harm. See the BMA (2009) report 'Under the influence - The damaging effect of alcohol marketing on young people'.

We have accepted this situation for far too long and we cannot, must not, wait any longer. Let’s introduce minimum pricing, start reducing harm, and carefully evaluating the results, now.

I am surprised and disappointed that my MSP has spurned the considered expert opinion of the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland and the evidence based advice of bodies such as Alcohol Focus Scotland and the British Medical Association. This is too important a decision to reduce to a game of adversarial politics. I will email Jackie Baillie and invite her to respond to the points in this blog.
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    Playing party politics with lives is shameful, by Lifelinking #Scotland #ukpolitics #alcohol #alcoholism #drinking
    Posted 04-Sep-2010 at 02:16 PM (14:16) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
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