Doctors call time on alcohol promotion
The new BMA report, “Under the Influence”, launched today (Tuesday 8 September 2009) also renews the call for other tough measures such as a minimum price per unit on alcoholic drinks and for them to be taxed higher than the rate of inflation.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of BMA Science and Ethics, says: “Over the centuries alcohol has become established as the country's favourite drug. The reality is that young people are drinking more because the whole population is drinking more and our society is awash with pro-alcohol messaging and marketing. In treating this we need to look beyond young people and at society as a whole.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature death and disability in developed countries after tobacco and blood pressure. It is related to over 60 medical conditions, costs the NHS millions of pounds every year and is linked to crime and domestic abuse.
Alcohol consumption in the UK has increased rapidly in recent years, for example, household expenditure on all alcoholic drinks increased by 81 per cent between 1992 and 2006. And at the same time, says the author of the report, Professor Gerard Hastings, never before has alcohol been so heavily promoted.
He says: “Given the alcohol industry spends £800 million a year in promoting alcohol in the UK, it is no surprise that children and young people see it everywhere - on TV, in magazines, on billboards, as part of music festivals or football sponsorship deals, on internet pop-ups and on social networking sites. Given adolescents often dislike the taste of alcohol, new products like alcopops and toffee vodka, are developed and promoted as they have greater appeal to young people.
“All these promotional activities serve to normalise alcohol as an essential part of every day life. It is no surprise that young people are drawn to alcohol.”
Dr Nathanson maintains that: “The BMA is not anti-alcohol. As doctors our focus is to ensure that individuals drink sensibly so they do not put their health and lives in danger.
“When the BMA initially called for a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places there were outcries but I doubt most people would want to return to the days of smoky pubs now. This shows that behaviour can change and this needs to happen with alcohol consumption.”
Brand development and stakeholder marketing by the alcohol industry, including partnership working and industry funded health education, has served the needs of the alcohol industry, not public health, says the report.
Dr Nathanson adds: “We have a perverse situation where the alcohol industry is advising our governments about alcohol reduction policies. As with tobacco, putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop - or at least putting him on a par with the farmer - is a dangerous idea. Politicians showed courage before by not bowing to the tobacco industry, they need to do the same now and make tough decisions that will not please alcohol companies.”
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