UK media fall for alcohol industry press release


There's that picture again: The one that's defining a new era of UK alcohol excess.


“Big drop in alcohol consumption,” the Independent blared. “Alcohol drinking in Britain sees sharpest fall since 1948,” the Telegraph trumpeted. “Record fall in alcohol consumption,” the Mirror shouted.  “Alcohol drinking continues fall,” the BBC chimed in.

We have an idiom for all that on our side of the pond. We call it, “falling hook, line and sinker.”

The British media swallowed whole last week an alcohol industry press release suggesting that UK’s notorious drinking problems actually are on the mend. This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, particularly for Britain’s young people, whose health, safety and lives are under assault from alcohol.

The real story was told in a chart, which the “drinks” industry is obviously quite proud of,  because it shows how volume and sales must equal profits. 

Anyway, here’s the chart:

Does that look like a problem on the wane to you, as the headlines proclaim? Because it doesn’t to me. It looks like a blip within a consistent, dangerous but quite profitable rise in alcohol consumption.

The alcohol industry routinely has its way with British public policy. And the results can be quite disastrous. The alcohol industry-supported Licensing Act of 2003 allowed 24-hour alcohol service, which was sold as a way to reduce dangerous drinking.

The result? A report by the Home Office shows what everybody in Britain already knows. These policies are failed: Hospitalizations related to alcohol have shot up. Public drunkenness and especially binge drinking among young people have become a national disgrace. Police and health costs created by this policy have been sloughed off on local governments.

Any preventionist could have told the government how ridiculous it was to think you could reduce binge drinking by allowing 24-hour sales and access. Many health and research experts did tell the Labour government, but it wouldn’t listen. This benighted policy has now brought renunciations from around the world.

The British Home Secretary admitted the failure:

The promised “café-culture” from 24-hour licences has not materialised, instead in 2009/10 almost one million violent crimes were alcohol-related and 47% of all violent crime was fuelled by alcohol. A fifth of all violent incidents took place in or around a pub or club, and almost two-thirds at night or in the evening.

But now, the UK cannot simply reverse course, as it obviously should, because there is one player who benefits from it. That’s right, the so-called “drinks” industry. Instead, government is looking at how the Licensing Act can be modified, while at the same time urging people to drink responsibly, an utterly valueless exhort. Preventionists know – and by rights so does government — that telling people to drink responsibly doesn’t work. Policy change and enforcement work. (See Youth Drinking Prevention Logic Model from PIRE, Fig. 1, over in the Blogroll)

Last week’s press release from the so-called drinks industry was an attempt to use the media to distract the British public and policy makers from the licensing disaster and the binge drinking epidemic it caused. Here’s hoping it doesn’t work.

Oh, and look at this below — a drunkenness survey among 15-year olds:


Big problems for UK youth: Data from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- Drunkenness among 15-year-olds, 2005-06


This entry was posted in Alcohol, Alcohol abuse, Binge drinking, Prevention, Substance abuse, Underage drinking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to UK media fall for alcohol industry press release

  1. I have detailed the tail of the alcohol epidemic in the UK in my report, “The Dangers of Alcohol Deregulation: The United Kingdom Experience.” The report is available at I also spent several days last January in the UK talking with public health experts and Members of Parliament. I was aware that the consumption rate was declining, but they have such a very long way to go before they reach a reasonable level! I can send you a copy of the report if you would post it. I am actively fighting deregulation in this country as the trends are very similar. Currently, I am working to mobilize the public health community in Washington State where Costco has a massive deregulation measure on the November ballot. Very scary.

    • jgogek says:

      As you have probably seen, there are many good reports from the UK on how disastrous the Licensing Act has been, including from the Home Office. All seem to concur that this never should have happened in the first place. Maybe the people of Washington State need to learn about the failed UK experiment…

  2. Pingback: ATODblog in 2010 in review | alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

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