Wales

Alcohol industry safe drinking messages 'ineffective'

Wine bottles
Image caption In Wales, 45% of adults drink more than the recommended amount, health officials say

Responsible drinking campaigns by the alcohol industry have little effect on cutting consumption, a report claims.

Alcohol Concern Cymru research claims industry health messages are ambiguous and suggest alcohol only causes problems in the wrong hands rather than being "dangerous" in its own right.

Raising prices and reducing availability were most likely to cut drinking rates they said.

The industry said the study was aimed at getting price rises.

The report for Alcohol Concern Cymru, Achieving positive change in the drinking culture of Wales, reviewed evidence from around the world on health messages coming from industry-supported campaigns.

The authors found such campaigns lacked clarity over safe drinking behaviour, which typically showed alcohol as a neutral product with some irresponsible users, whereas the evidence they studied suggested alcohol was intrinsically dangerous and needed careful regulation.

'Conflict of interest'

Prof Rob Poole of Glyndwr University, who led the research with Dr Catherine Robinson of Bangor University, said key findings were repeated consistently across the evidence they reviewed.

"The most effective measures are increasing price and reducing availability," he said. "There is really no convincing evidence that responsible drinking campaigns have any effect at all.

"The alcohol industry's conflict of interest is so marked that a number of independent health bodies, including the World Health Organisation, take the view that the industry should have no role in policy formation or health promotion with respect to alcohol."

Alcohol Concern Cymru believes there is a contradiction between the drinks industry's claim to promote responsible drinking, and their need to increase sales.

Manager Andrew Misell said: "If everyone in the UK drank within the recommended limits, it's estimated that drinks industry profits would fall by 40%.

"It's no wonder the industry concentrates its heath promotion resources on the tactics likely to have least effect on overall consumption, and is very keen to pass responsibility for any problems on to consumers.

'Without any intervention'

"Much of the alcohol industry has strongly opposed increasing prices and reducing availability, the two things most likely to tackle the culture of drinking to get drunk."

Local Government and Communities Minister Carl Sargeant said the report gave support to policies designed to control the price and availability of alcohol, and restricting promotion to young people.

A spokeswoman for the Portman Group, the responsibility body for drinks producers, said: "The drinks industry provides £5m annual funding to an independent charity, Drinkaware, to carry out alcohol education.

"Alcohol Concern Cymru wants us to stop doing this and instead get government to put up prices.

"In fact, official figures show that levels of alcohol consumption and misuse have been in decline in Wales for at least five years and this has been achieved without any intervention on price or availability.

"The industry shall therefore continue with its investment in education because this is ultimately the most effective way to permanently change attitudes and behaviour around alcohol."

The report is being delivered at a joint Alcohol Concern Cymru and Action and Smoking and Health (Ash) conference in Cardiff on Wednesday and Thursday.

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