Chief medic wants alcohol licensing powers for Wales

Bottle of wine and glasses
Image caption The UK government says it is developing plans to tackle alcohol abuse

Wales' chief medical officer has called for powers to be able to introduce tougher controls on alcohol to tackle "the binge drinking culture".

Dr Tony Jewell backed Health Minister Edwina Hart's call for the assembly government to have powers over alcohol licensing.

He said too many people in Wales still drank too much.

But the UK government, which controls the regulations, said there were no plans to devolve alcohol licensing.

Dr Jewell's annual report, to be published later this week, says 45% of adults report drinking more than is recommended every day.

The report for 2008/09 says there were more than 16,000 referrals to treatment agencies for alcohol misuse.

He told BBC Radio Wales that alcohol was "extremely cheap" compared to 30 years ago.

He said: "Prices have fallen dramatically since 1980. One of the most effective things we can do to control alcohol abuse is to increase pricing.

'Serious issues'

"We know that minimum pricing and increasing licensing powers has an effect of reducing binge drinking and reducing anti-social behaviour."

He said a 40p minimum price would cost a moderate drinker 11p a week.

In his report, Dr Jewell, said: "I believe that the only way to really tackle this problem is for the assembly Government to have the necessary power to make changes to the controls on sale of alcohol in Wales."

Phil Jones, landlord of the Open Hearth pub at Sebastopol, near Pontypool, Torfaen, said: "Much of the emphasis is put on the trade to respond to the issues of binge drinking and that we should be responsible for the people".

Mr Jones said alcohol abuse was a social issue and bigger than the minimum price. He said that "the people themselves actually consuming the alcohol need to be responsible for their own actions".

"They don't seem to face any real consequences for their behaviour."

'Licensed premises'

Dr Jewell responded to Mr Jones's comments by saying that promotions by supermarkets accounted for some "preloading" - people drinking at home prior to going out.

He said licensed premises could benefit from minimum pricing because "loss leading" promotions in supermarkets were "driving some of this abuse".

Dr Jewell added: "Licensees are the people that suffer from this. We want people to drink in licensed premises."

A Welsh Office spokesperson said the UK coalition government's programme "makes clear our determination to overhaul the 24-hour licensing and tackle alcohol-fuelled crime and we are currently consulting on a range of measures to take this forward.

"It is essential that there is a joined-up approach to tackle these serious issues in England and Wales.

"We will continue to work with the Welsh Assembly Government as proposals are developed, however there are no plans to devolve alcohol licensing to Wales."

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