Wales England

Last updated:

Alcohol proposals too timid, says BMA

Government efforts to introduce minimum alcohol pricing and curb consumption in other ways are welcome but do not go far enough, the BMA maintains.

It would like to see the proposed minimum price increase from 45p to 50p per unit, a rise in excise duty, and drinks to be taxed according to their alcoholic strength.

The association is also calling for any future ban on multi-buy promotions in shops and off-licences to be extended to pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. And it urges promotions such as ‘happy hours’ to be restricted.

BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson pointed out that alcohol-related harm cost an estimated £20bn in England each year, with £1.7bn of this being in healthcare.

She said: ‘Our members witness first hand the damaging effects of alcohol, and have repeatedly called for stronger action to reduce [its] affordability and availability.’

Higher price, lower admissions

The recommendations are included in a BMA response to the Home Office alcohol strategy consultation for England and Wales, which closed earlier this month.

The association argues that introducing a higher 50p minimum price would reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions by an estimated 97,700 and alcohol-related crimes by 42,500 each year after 10 years. It would also be consistent with Scottish legislation and eliminate cross-border differences on pricing.

Doctors leaders ask for excise duty to increase by 10 per cent, with further annual increases above the rate of inflation. Taxation should also be proportional to alcohol level, with duty bands introduced to favour lower-strength products.

The BMA supports proposals to ban multi-buy promotions in shops, and would like to see this extended to drinking establishments, which are not covered in existing legislation.

Licensing hours should be shortened for both types of outlet and mandatory licensing conditions widened to restrict all promotions that encourage excessive drinking.

Breaking the rules should incur financial penalties and the removal or suspension of licenses, and secret shoppers should be used to monitor underage sales, the BMA says.

Well-being in mind

The association also supports a recommendation in the consultation for health to be made a licensing objective, and for local authorities to take account of the full range of alcohol-related health harms when making licensing decisions.

Last month, the BMA — as part of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK — voiced its concerns about attempts by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association to mobilise the public against minimum pricing. The BMA board of science has produced several reports on alcohol control.

A new Change4life campaign is urging people to check how much alcohol they consume using an online Drinks Checker. The tool helps calculate calories consumed through drink and associated spending. It is accompanied by a television campaign.