Boozing Brit’s cost £25 billion a year

We moan about the cost of a pint being around £4 these days, but the true cost of alcohol is much greater. We forget about the cost to society, which is estimated at a staggering £25 billion every year, made up of the cost to the health service, violence at home and on the streets, plus alcohol-related accidents.

Good news is on the horizon, the Government is about to act, with its new deal for alcohol responsibility, however, a number of key organisations and individuals are not satisfied with it. The British Medical Association (BMA) and other medical organisations have not felt themselves able to sign up to the deal.

The World Health Organisation said that any action taken on alcohol should fall into three areas – the promotion, availability and affordability of alcohol, which is a view supported by other health organisations, including the BMA. A more connected approach is called for. The BMA feels that the Government is not going far enough with its reforms, in particular that the limit for drink-driving should be lowered and the police allowed to do breath-testing randomly at the roadside.

Other organisations have a key role to play – retailers that sell alcohol and the drinks industry, for instance. Action must be taken to limit alcohol availability by changing licensing laws to reduce the number of places that are able to sell it. Public health and the prevention of street crime should be the prime considerations. Legislation must also consider the impact of price, i.e. the availability of cheap alcohol.

Better labelling also has a role to play. Most people have no real idea of the harmful effects of alcohol and improved labelling that includes the number of units in the container, the legal safe number and warnings about exceeding the limit should be prominently on display. Education and better research also can feature.

The BMA also says that the healthcare sector must be better-prepared to deal with the effects of alcohol, including cutting down waiting times and improving specialist services. Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is making the right noises, saying that it is up to all Ministers and not just him to take action, but this needs to be backed up with firm action, legislation. We need to follow the example of France, which has taken action and the industry has not suffered as a result.