Category Archives: Social

Being drunk in charge of a child can get you arrested

So this was featured in The Independent in July and was picked up by Alcohol Policy UK.   After a Russian heiress was found guilty of being drunk in charge of a child, the Independent dug out the 1902 licensing act.

The Summer’s social calendar is already in swing events from family barbecues to village fetes already lining up. However, while drinking when in charge of children at family events is common practice, it is also actually a breach of the law.

With even David Cameron leaving his eight-year-old daughter behind at a pub back in 2012, parents drinking while looking after their children is an everyday occurrence. But a century old law forbids the behaviour.

Being drunk while in charge of a child under the age of seven is illegal according to the 1902 licencing act. The law states that a fine or up to a month’s imprisonment would result if “any person is found drunk in any highway or other public place, or on any incensed premises, while having the charge of a child.”

“The threshold would be whether the child was compromised. If you’re having lunch with a couple of glasses of wine, you probably wouldn’t be considered drunk in charge of a child,” solicitor advocate Joy Merriam tells The Sun.

Being alert and capable of safeguarding your child are the key responsibilities that could be compromised by drinking irresponsibly. If parents are unable to look after their children and protect them from physical harm they could be committing the offence.

“There is no fixed amount under the current legislation, but it could certainly be argued that if you are an adult solely responsible for a child, it is better not to drink alcohol at all,” family lawyer Jo Shortland tells The Independent. 

However, Ms Merriam adds that in cases of this type where parents are arrested on suspicion of the offence, prosecutions are infrequent and most commonly passed on to social services.   

“Those responsible for children need to consider their own limitations and take a sensible approach to alcohol consumption,” family lawyer Deborah Heald tells The Independent. 

The charity Drinkaware also released the following advice for parents: “Drink within the low risk alcohol unit guidelines of not regularly drinking more than 14 units per week for both men and women, and spreading them evenly over three days or more. This shows your child that adults can enjoy alcohol in moderation.”

Edited to add: I suspect this includes if you are drunk on a plane!

Revealed: The growing problem of drunk and abusive fliers – and the worst routes for bad behaviour

Panorama: Plane Drunk (BBC One Panorama 8.30 pm tonight)

 

Guest Blog Post: Mindful Drinking Festival & Alcohol Free Drinks In Recovery

So this is a quick plug for my friends over at Club Soda and a guest blog post they have written in support of their upcoming Mindful Drinking Festival (see details to the left)

Over to Jussi:

Alcohol-free beers and wines can be a controversial topic for people in recovery. Many feel that they should be avoided completely. Why keep drinking something that reminds you of alcohol? Won’t they just lead you back to the full-strength stuff eventually? These are all valid points, coming from years of experience by many people.

Club Soda is a Mindful Drinking Movement, which means that we support people whatever their drinking goals are. Some want to quit completely, some want to take a temporary “sober sprint”, some want to cut down in some way. We believe these are all valuable goals – any reduction in alcohol use is good news.

Alcohol-free beers and wines is a topic that comes up regularly in our online community. There are strongly held views both for and against them. It was never our aim to promote any particular drinks. But we have heard from so many of our members how swapping their usual beers and wines to a non-alcoholic or even a lower alcohol version has helped them to dramatically change their habits.

But we also believe that only you can decide for yourself. If you don’t think a non-alcoholic beer is right for you, then absolutely do not try them. We do always say that if you find a drink a “trigger” for alcohol, then it is best to stay away. There are plenty of soft drinks to drink which will not remind you of alcohol.

A further interesting twist to this discussion took place recently on our Facebook Group: how does people’s relationship with AF drinks change over time? This is what Ellen wrote:

“At 8 months sober, I can really take them or leave them. However in early sobriety, especially over Christmas, I TOTALLY depended on them. There was a time I could drink a whole AF wine fairly fast and open another. Now though, I honestly hardly even want a bottle.”

Melanie responded in a similar way:

“I’m at 8 months and like you drink a lot less af drinks now than I first did. A weekend treat or if the girls are over. They have their uses but I guess I’ve now broken the habit!!”

Many others added comments on the same lines: used to drink more or less the same amount of AF drinks as they used to drink alcoholic drinks in the beginning of their sober journey, but have reduced their consumption over time. Many of the people with a few sober months under their belt said they only drank AF drinks on special occasions: most often when out in a pub. Partly to “blend in”, partly to have something “grown up” to drink, rather than a sugary lemonade.

The good news is that there is a real revolution going on in the drinks industry. There are more and more good quality non-alcoholic beers and wines available both in shops and bars. And many other new drinks are also making an appearance, from craft sodas to fermented tea drink kombucha.

Many of the new drinks can still be difficult to find though. That is why Club Soda is organising the UK’s first ever Mindful Drinking Festival – bringing together all the best alcohol-free drinks (0.5% and below) in one place: not just wines and beers, but also soft drinks, kombucha, mocktails, fine teas and much more. The event is free to attend, and lets you taste all the best new drinks, and find some new favourites for every occasion!

The Club Soda Mindful Drinking Festival is on 13th August, from midday to 6pm, at Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN. Entry is free, and you can RSVP online at mindfuldrinkingfestival.com.

We would love to see you there and hear your views.

I would love to be there that day but sadly will be working my day job 🙁  If you go do drop me a comment here to tell me what you sampled!

Sober inspiration: Co-dependency vs Self-Love Deficit Disorder

I’m currently reading Melody Beattie Co-dependent No More and that prompted me to dust off this post which has been in draft format for over 2 years!! :O So on my day 600 I shared a video that looked at co-dependency that carried a warning and I know from feedback that it caused a few wobbles.  Well imagine my delight when I watched this Jason Silva Shots of Awe where he says ‘what’s wrong with co-dependence?’.  Obviously we’re talking healthy rather than unhealthy co-dependence  here but just the same relying on other human beings is not in and of itself a bad thing!

Here’s his video:

And then consider this also as pioneered by Ross Rosenberg:

Men and women always have been drawn into romantic relationships instinctively, not so much by what they see, feel or think, but more by an invisible and irresistible relationship force. “Chemistry,” or the intuitive knowingness of perfect compatibility, is synonymous with the Human Magnet Syndrome.

He has 18 guiding principles of Self-Love Deficit Disorder and The Human Magnet Syndrome which you can read in full here, but below is a taster with the first principle outlined.

1. “Codependency” is an outdated term that connotes weakness and emotional fragility, both of which are far from the truth. The replacement term, “Self-Love Deficit Disorder” or SLDD takes the stigma and misunderstanding out of codependency and places the focus on the core shame that perpetuates it. Inherent in the term itself is the recognition of the core problem of codependency, as well as the solution to it.

Above is his Self-Love Abundancy Pyramid where the goal of SLDD recovery, or “The Codependency Cure”™ is the healing the trauma responsible for one’s self-love deficit (SLDD) and the acquisition of self-love or “Self-Love Abundance” or SLA.  

I’ll drink a sparkling water to that! 🙂

Hidden Signs Of Alcoholism – Interactive Priory Awareness Campaign

So it is the second week of the summer holidays and for many of us with children this can be a trying time as we juggle work, childcare and the family holiday.   We might drink more to cope or we might drink more while celebrating the relaxing of rules because it is the school holidays.  We might be trying to keep our drinking hidden so they don’t notice or we may just give up entirely and not care at all.  I swung between every one and all of those positions and feelings back in the day!

I’ve had the interesting experience this last week of my children going away on holiday for a week with their grandparents leaving us footloose and fancy free for the first time in 11 years!  In the past this would have been a green light to an absolute booze fest – no kids for a week would have mean’t the brakes were well and truly off with no one watching us so it’s been valuable to see how far I’ve come since 4 years ago.  It’s been pub lunches with lovely AF drinks, cake and tea out, cinema & chocolate, nice meals at home but no late nights getting shitfaced and days wasted in bed with a hangover – and no noise generators but ourselves, how lovely 😉

So recently The Priory contacted me about their new interactive awareness campaign and I thought I’d share it here.  Over to them:

I am writing to make you aware of an educational campaign that we are running to educate the public on the often hidden signs of alcohol addiction, through the use of an interactive web page.

Alcohol dependency is a condition that over a million people deal with in the UK (NICE). In fact, the NHS estimates that 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK are dependent on alcohol – however most don’t seek help.

Alcohol has also been identified as a causal factor in more than 60 serious medical conditions including heart disease and liver disease, various cancers and mental health problems (Public Health England).

With this in mind, we have developed an interactive campaign for interested parties to link to from their websites.

As one of the UK’s leading independent providers of alcohol rehabilitation and support services, we are committed to helping people overcome their addiction to alcohol and start their journey towards recovery. Our consultants treat people from all walks of life – often it is those you least expect who are struggling.

Our campaign is based on helping people to spot the signs of alcohol addiction, and we thought your audience might find it a useful support should they be worried about a partner’s, friend’s or relative’s drinking.

We would be delighted if you would add the item to your website:

www.priorygroup.com/the-addiction

Disclaimer: I have no vested interest in The Priory Group and have received no payment from them for sharing this email nor is this a recommendation from me to use their services.  It is purely just help to spread the word of their most recent campaign.

What do you think of their interactive web page?

Are alcohol-free alternatives finally coming of age?

This article on alcohol-free alternatives was featured in The Guardian in April.

What to drink when you’re not drinking? Not so long ago, the choice was very limited: tonic without the gin, perhaps? Lime and soda sans vodka? An oversweet fruity number? Or (yawn) another sparkling water? Perhaps it is no wonder that those of us of a certain age tend to be heavier drinkers than the younger generation: alcohol consumption in the UK fell 26% between 2002 and 2012, and the number of people aged 16-25 who drink little or not at all has risen by 40% in a decade. So it’s no great surprise that the marketeers are muscling in with a raft of decent alcohol-free tipples designed to please these sober youngsters and their boozy parents, too.

Most low-alcohol beers are still thin and dull, but Brew Dog’s Nanny State (around £1.25, widely available) is clean and hoppy, with body and balance, and stands up well against its alcoholic craft beer cousins.

When it comes to wine, most with no or low alcohol tend to be fairly grim, too. Torres Natureo Muscat (£5.99, Waitrose) is vinified as wine, then de-alcoholised by distillation and comes out at a healthy 0.5% abv. It’s off-dry, but not too cloying, and would sit well on a springtime supper table, especially if the food is slightly spicy: try it with something Thai.

Seedlip is a non-alcoholic, zero-calorie distilled drink that’s caused a stir even among die-hard drinkers. Treat it as a gin or vodka: I like the savoury freshness of Seedlip Garden (£27.95 The Whisky Exchange, £27.99 Waitrose), flavoured with peas, hay, rosemary and thyme. Drink it with tonic and a cucumber slice. (Seedlip recommends Fever-Tree Elderflower tonic, but it works just as well with good old Schweppes.) For a similar grown-up botanical hit with tonic (and at a fraction of the cost), try a few drops of bitters: classic Angostura (about £10, widely available) with a slice of orange; or the deliciously zingy Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters (£8.71 thedrinkshop.com, £9.85 The Whisky Exchange) with a sprig of mint.

If you do like something fruity, try your hand at making shrubs, or “drinking vinegars”, as the hipsters call them. These are fruit cordials made with vinegar, which gives a pleasing, sour tang. Mix 1kg fruit with a litre of cider vinegar and 750g sugar, leave in a covered container for two weeks, then strain and bottle the liquid. To serve, dilute 1:5 with still or fizzy water. Soft fruit seems to work best: raspberries with crushed black peppercorns thrown into the mix, or gooseberries with chopped green chillies, say.

I’m always up for new AF drinks suggestions & must try the Seedlip Garden too!  If you’d like to try some of the new alcohol free drinks now available why not head to the Mindful Drinking Festival in London next month?  Having read this morning’s headline on the Guardian (Heavy drinking will kill 63,000 people over next five years, doctors warn) it feels like Laura & Jussi, the founders of Club Soda, have set this up at just the right time 🙂

What Lies Beneath: Volatility in a Peaceful World

So this is a completely left-field post because it draws on other arenas of interest and influence to me that I don’t normally talk about here on the blog.  The entry point is volatility but the wider life lesson absolutely fits here.

First the definition of volatility:

“liability to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse.”

Then the link to the podcast that blew my mind:

What Lies Beneath: Volatility in a Peaceful World (Podcast Number 13)

So yes it’s a finance podcast and the key excerpts of value were from Chris Cole in his talking about viewing life as a hedge  (A hedge is an investment to reduce the risk of adverse movements in value of the underlying asset).  So for me running is a natural hedge (short term pain) for longer term health and longevity (long term gain) –  hopefully.  He even cites drinking as a short on life potentially negatively affecting the risk to your life caused by the health effects over the longer term.  Running reduces health risk while drinking increases health risk.  Except he explains it so much more eloquently and elegantly than I do!

He then mentions this brilliant watch called The Tikker:

The Tikker Watch was designed to provide you with a constant reminder that life is truly short and we should take advantage of the time we have on this planet.   The Tikker System will give you an estimate of your life expectancy and then counts down every second so you can make choices that will enhance your life such as exercise, a healthy diet, or finding ways to reduce stress.  Buy one now and you will see how it immediately and positively affects you and those around you.    Start a new way of looking at life today!

Some may find the premise of this watch maudlin but I think it’s inspired.

And then as a bonus Chris Martenson talks about the nuances of communicating emotionally charged ideas.  And lets face it talking about drinking to anyone can feel emotionally charged at times!

I thought I’d share it here because my mouth dropped open and tears sprang to my eyes on hearing it and for me that’s a indicator to document it here 🙂

10 things you only know if you’re teetotal

I normally steer clear of sharing these kind of lists on the blog but this one I read in The Telegraph in May I quite liked 🙂  As the post title suggests it’s shares the insights that we have because we are teetotal (another label I’m not terrifically keen on!)

According to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics, teetotalism is on the rise, with 21 per cent of Brits claiming not to drink at all, and almost half drinking less than they previously did. 

As any teetotaller like myself will tell you, the release of stats such as these are always very encouraging (more sober people to speak to at parties!), but somewhat hard to believe. Twenty one per cent may be a notable increase, but it still places us alcohol-shunners firmly in the minority, marginalised from social norms. 

Here are 10 things you only know if you don’t drink. 

1. You get tired of explaining your reasons for abstaining

You go out, someone mentions drinks, and offers you a glass of wine. “No thanks, I don’t drink” you say, in the hope that, as a mature adult, they will respect your choice and move on. No such luck. “You don’t drink? What, not at all?” they cry in disbelief. “Why?” Once you reel out your valid, personal reasons for the millionth time they are still unlikely to be satisfied, and you find yourself contending either with knowing smiles and patronising comments such as “Ah, I just need to introduce you to a good red wine” or a glazed look of incomprehension, as if you’ve just revealed that you are in fact part-martian.

2. You end up finding ways to make it look like you’re drinking

Once you realise that choosing not to consume liquor proves too much for many of your acquaintances to handle, it becomes clear that a more peaceful evening can be had if you avoid the subject altogether. So you either ask for tap water because you’re “thirsty” or secretly order virgin cocktails, and hope that everyone will mistake your San Pellegrino with ice and a slice for a G&T. After several rounds, no one else will notice that you’re still sober, anyway.

3. You can remember all of your birthday parties…

…as well as those of your friends and any weddings, christenings or graduations you may have attended. There is no need to check Facebook or text someone to find out what happened last night, because, being alcohol-free, your memory is preserved. Rather than looking back on a haze of vodka-fuelled antics and missing belongings, you’ll remember the details: the conversations, the laughter, and all the fuzzy emotions. No embarrassment, and no need for an early morning walk of shame. 

4. You can have productive Saturday and Sunday mornings

The benefits of living without hangovers cannot be underestimated. You can go out for an evening safe in the knowledge that, come the morning, you will be able to go about your business as usual without reaching for sunglasses, paracetamol or the nearest paper bag. Days do not need to be written off in advance for recovery, and you can fill your time with other things you enjoy. 

5. You appreciate deep and meaningful​ late night conversations 

All teetotallers know that, once the evening has past a certain point, maintaining any kind of serious conversation with a fellow reveller can become nigh-on impossible, as they segue from discussing Brexit to describing their socks, and complaining about that ex who would always leave toothpaste in the sink. Finding someone at 11pm who is sober enough to have a still have lucid conversation is a source of great joy, and you may end up bonding as a result. 

6. You are sick to death of sparkling water

Although certain bars and brands are taking notice of increasing numbers of non-drinkers, the majority of venues do not offer enticing non-alcoholic options. This means you are faced with over-priced, syrup-laden mocktails, watery fruit juices from concentrate or water. Afraid that by constantly ordering tap water you will appear cheap, a killjoy or just distinctly unimaginative, you are forced to go for the sparkling option, as it appears slightly more grown up, whether or not you actually enjoy it. Sadly, until more bars cotton on to the fact that some of us would be interested in drinking a sophisticated tea or coffee after 7pm, you are forced to endure the abrasive, tasteless bubbles at all social events.   

7. You have extra cash

By choosing not to drink, you are inevitably saving yourself a decent sum of money. A meal out with friends does not automatically mean lining and clearing out the contents of your wallet: not only are you saving on  the hiked-up prices of alcohol in bars, but also the dodgy kebabs, taxi rides, dry-cleaning bills and inevitable Alkaseltzer the following day. As a result, you have extra money to spend on food, clothes and sober activities like going to the cinema or the gym. Crippling rent and bills aside, this makes it less likely that you’ll always be counting down the days til payday and forcing yourself to survive solely on pot noodles. 

8. You realise how grimy most bars are

Everyone knows that alcohol allows you to see the world through rosé-coloured glasses, meaning that those under the influence tend not to notice sticky floors or mouldy walls. A life of sobriety allows you to appreciate all the charming details of the world’s drinking establishments in glorious technicolour, and you quickly understand that many of them are pretty nasty places. From the questionable stains in the toilets to the scum on the drinking glasses, you are forced to notice every unpleasant detail, while your drinking peers gush about how much fun they’re having. 

9. You are an expert observer of the stages and types of drunkenness 

Being in a minority, the non-drinker in a group has both the advantage and disadvantage of watching everyone else descend into the various types of drunk: the crier, the giggler, the flirt, the overly-sincere etc. You watch with amusement and/or despair as all your friends transform from rational humans into wide-eyed huggers or laughing maniacs, and spend a lot of time listening to people explain with earnest that Michael Jackson really isn’t dead, and that people should be more considerate to the local dormouse population. Whether you choose to remind them of these conversations the next day remains at your discretion. 

10. You appreciate a good evening in 

It is still very possible to maintain a busy social life as a non-drinker, but it’s likely that you are more inclined than most to enjoy the comforts of an evening at home, rather than a crowded bar. You don’t have to spend outrageous money on soft drinks or “bar snacks”, nor do you have to put up with inappropriate fondling from soused acquaintances, force anyone into a taxi, or mop up vomit. You can spend an enjoyable evening catching up with friends (or blissfully alone) on the sofa, cooking up a storm, or gorging on your favourite box set. And you can go to bed when you want. Result. 

The only one I would disagree with is the dislike of sparkling water – which is still my go to drink almost 4 years in.  Any you disagree with?  Any you would add?

Statistics on Alcohol England 2017

An excellent blog post as always from Alcohol Policy UK in May looking at the latest statistics on Alcohol England for 2017 & Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) drinking figures.

Over to James:

The annual Statistics on Alcohol for England 2017 has been released, detailing national data for key alcohol-related indicators and health harms.

Mainly bringing together recent alcohol data releases, the overall trend remains one of falls in drinking amongst younger people, whilst many measures of harm including the latest alcohol-related hospital admissions continue to rise, largely driven by heavier drinking mid and older age adults. See here for Guardian and BBC reports.

Key headlines from the release include:

Hospital admissions – broad measure
  • There were 1.1 million estimated admissions related to alcohol consumption in 2015/16. This is 4% more than 2014/15.
  • This represents 7.0% of all hospital admissions which is similar to 2014/15 and 2013/14.
  • Blackpool had the highest rate at 3,540 per 100,000 population. Isle of Wight had the lowest rate at 1,400.

Hospital admissions – narrow measure

  • There were 339 thousand estimated admissions related to alcohol consumption in 2015/16. This is 3% higher than 2014/15 and 22% higher than 2005/06.
  • This represents 2.1% of all hospital admissions which has changed little in the last 10 years.

See here for the LAPE statistical commentary [pdf] on the latest alcohol-related hospital admission figures.

Drinking Prevalence

  • 57% of adults reported drinking alcohol in the previous week in 2016 which is a fall from 64% in 2006.
  • This equates to 25.3 million adults in England.
  • Those who drank more than 8/6 units on their heaviest day in the last week fell from 19% to 15%.

Deaths

  • In 2015, there were 6,813 deaths which were related to the consumption of alcohol. This is 1.4% of all deaths.
  • The number of deaths is similar to 2014 but is an increase of 10% on 2005.

[NB Age standardised death rates show a relatively stable trend since 2012].

Prescriptions

  • The number of prescription items dispensed in 2016 was 188 thousand which was 4% lower than 2015 but 63% higher than 2006. This breaks the recent trend of successive year on year increases.
  • The total Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) was £4.87 million. This is 24% higher than in 2015 and more than double the level ten years ago.

Consumption confounders?

The national statistics release includes the latest Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) data on alcohol consumption, albeit that Heaviest Drinking Day (HDD) in the last week is not well regarded as an accurate indicator of consumption. Health Survey for England (HSE) data may be considered better for consumption trends as it also includes questions on mean weekly or daily consumption.
Recent sets of both data though show similar findings in terms of identified trends and socio-economic or geographical variations. However a small decline in the OPN’s proportion of adult drinkers in Britain to 56.9% based on reported drinking in the last week is the lowest since 2005 when the survey began. This time point has however been described as ‘peak booze’ following several decades of steep increases before the turn of the century. As well as the many important demographic differences behind these overall trends in reported consumption, more detailed research has continued to highlight the ‘rich tapestry’ behind the various drinking groups and the extent of under-estimation in self-report data.
Prescriptions: an unexpected drop?
Whilst the ten year trend for prescriptions to treat alcohol dependency has risen significantly, a 4% drop on 2015 may be notable, though largely due to a significant fall in Disilfiram prescriptions. The release however notes a sharp rise of £22 for the Net Ingredient Cost for Disilfiram giving a likely indication as to why. Also of interest, prescription items for Nalmefene fell by 1,000 from 4,400 in 2015 to 3,400 in 2016 which may reflect the apparent decision by its producers Lundbeck ceasing promotion activity in the UK, but also potentially linked to questions raised over the evidence and licensing process.
Alcohol-related cancers: a further harm measure
The latest LAPE statistical commentary [pdf] also includes estimates of alcohol-related cancer based on the six cancer types which are known to have an alcohol link; mouth, throat, breast, stomach, liver and bowel cancer. The release suggests approximately 19,000 new cancer cases each year attributed to alcohol. Since 2004 these rates have been rising, but a recent small drop in alcohol-related cancer rates for men has not yet been followed by the rates for women.
Looking ahead: sales and pricing?
For those keen on assessing the potential future for harm and consumption trends, interest will no doubt be focused on forthcoming sales data which indicated a return to rising total UK alcohol consumption last year, largely driven by the continued growth in off-sales. As such, health advocates wish to see Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) to curb the availability of the cheapest alcohol – a final conclusion to Scotland’s long running bid is expected imminently.
There has been a great deal of talk recently about JAM (just about managing) or “squeezed middle” in the UK and this share of expenditure being spent on booze can’t be helping financially or otherwise.

Commons alcohol policy briefings

Thanks once again to Alcohol Policy UK for this information shared in April.  A spate of alcohol research briefings produced by the House of Commons Library have recently been released, suggesting continuing Government interest in alcohol’s impact on society.  An expectation of the need to tackle alcohol harms now seems further embedded amongst the general population.

The recent House of Commons Library briefings include:

Alcohol: minimum pricing

The recent Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) briefing [pdf] sets out a brief history of MUP in the UK, highlighting:

‘The Government has said that MUP “remains under review pending the outcome of the legal case between the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Government, and the impact of the implementation of this policy in Scotland”.

The Coalition Government introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price from 28 May 2014. This is one of the licensing conditions of the mandatory code of practice that applies to licensed premises.

The Coalition Government’s alcohol strategy (March 2012) had included a commitment to introduce MUP. A consultation (November 2012) on the strategy recommended a price of 45p per unit. The commitment was dropped in July 2013 – the then Government claimed that its analysis of consultation responses showed there was not enough “concrete evidence” that MUP would be effective in reducing the harms associated with problem drinking without penalising responsible drinkers.’

The briefing further review the details of recent policy developments, including the long-running Scottish Government’s effort to implement MUP in face of successive legal challenges and appeals by sections of the alcohol industry. A final conclusion to the saga is expected this year, which should it result in implementation will be likely to increase pressure on any Government in Westminster to make commitments pending  positive outcomes. Wales and Ireland meanwhile take the view the evidence is already conclusive enough and are seeking MUP irrespectively.

Alcohol taxation and the pub trade

Often tied in with MUP debates, debates over the potential for taxation as a pricing lever can be equally hard fought. A newly released briefing on taxation and the pub trade [pdf] extensively details some of the key issues including the way alcoholic drinks are taxed, Labour’s introduction of a ‘duty escalator’ in 2008, and reported concerns in the pub trade over the impact of the policy. It further considers the Coalition Government decision to remove the duty escalator in two stages in 2013 and 2014, and the current Government’s approach to the taxation of alcohol.

Indeed the growing price gap between off and on-trade sales has been charged with the shift towards home drinking and continued decline in pubs. Whilst multiple factors are likely to be at play, many are concerned that cheap off-trade sales fuel heavy drinking in unregulated environments and ‘pre-loading’. A current consultation on changes to white cider may have some effect down the line, but will not address many of the broader public health concerns.

Alcohol: mandatory licensing conditions

A briefing on the mandatory licensing conditions [pdf] has also been released, detailing the amendments made to the Licensing Act intended to address ‘irresponsible drinking’. A mandatory condition in 2014 introduced the controversial ‘below cost ban’ – an alternative price floor following the MUP u-turn, but in reality thought to affect few if any drinks on sale to the public.

Existing mandatory conditions introduced in 2010, which too may have been of questionable impact or unknowns over national levels of adherence, include:

  • ban irresponsible promotions
  • ensure free potable water for customers
  • ensure that small measures of beers, wine and spirits are offered and that customers are made aware of them
  • ensure that all those who sell or supply alcohol have an age verification policy in place requiring them to ask anyone who looks under 18 for proof of age

Children in pubs

A new briefing relating to children in pubs [pdf] sets out the various legal and policy considerations for this rather complex area. Whilst the Licensing Act includes the protection of children as one of its four main objectives, children can attend most pubs if accompanied by an adult and within certain hours. However certain other laws and circumstances exist, as well as important considerations around age checks, employment and other issues.

Alcohol: drinking in the street

A recent briefing on issues pertaining to street drinking highlights that whilst consuming alcohol in public places is not illegal per se, a range of legislation and controlled zones exist which can authorise confiscation or arrest related to public space consumption. Since their introduction, powers of confiscation, dispersals or penalty notices have been significantly utilised and are likely to have contributed to falls in arrests for drunk and disorderly or being drunk in a public place. Street drinking however remains a concern in many areas; a toolkit for ‘Tackling street drinking’ was released last year, intended to help ‘reduce the incidents of, and burden from, street drinking and to improve the interventions provided to street drinkers themselves.’

Let’s see if what they said is followed up with actions ….

Changing Scotland’s Relationship to Alcohol

Coverage from Alcohol Policy UK of the new report from Alcohol Focus about changing Scotland’s relationship to alcohol and recommendations for further action.

A new report has been released by Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) calling for bold action by the Scottish Government as it prepares to refresh its national alcohol strategy.

Download Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol: Recommendations for further action (PDF)

The report is intended to inform the next phase of the Scottish Government’s alcohol strategy and was developed with the BMA Scotland, SHAAP and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs. It outlines a comprehensive range of actions that it wishes to see the Government prioritise, including a target to reduce national consumption in Scotland by 10%. It argues the fall in consumption could potentially deliver a 20% reduction in deaths and hospital admissions after 20 years, based on University of Sheffield modelling.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Implementing a 50p minimum unit price as soon as possible
  • Developing a strategic approach to reducing the availability of alcohol, and improving existing licensing regulation
  • Reducing exposure of children to alcohol advertising and sponsorship
  • Protecting every child’s right to an alcohol-free childhood
  • Clearer information for consumers about the health risks associated with drinking
  • More investment in alcohol prevention, treatment and support services

The report states that whilst per capita alcohol consumption in Scotland declined by 9% between 2009 and 2013, since 2012 the amount of alcohol sold and number of people dying as a result have increased. In 2015 the amount of litres of pure alcohol sold was 10.8 per adult in Scotland; equivalent to 20.8 units per adult per week. Alcohol misuse is stated to cost £3.56 billion a year in health, social care, crime, productive capacity and wider costs, whilst the cost to the NHS in Scotland is £267 million. The cost of alcohol-related crime in Scotland is £727 million a year, and the total costs to society equate to £900 for every adult in Scotland.

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said Scotland was “awash with alcohol” and that “widespread availability, low prices and heavy marketing are having a devastating effect.” Dr Peter Bennie, Chair of BMA Scotland said doctors see “the first-hand the damage that alcohol misuse does to patients and their families” and that the country could not afford the costs of alcohol upon the health service.

Health Secretary Shona Robison welcomed the report and said the government would consider all of the recommendations. Last year the final Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) report was released, indicating the Scottish Government’s alcohol strategy has had a positive impact over the past 5 years despite minimum unit pricing (MUP) not having been implemented.

Scotland: evidence first?

In 2015 a report was released exploring the extent to which alcohol policies across the UK nations were evidence-based. The report rated Scotland as having the strongest approach based on policy detailed in ‘Health First’, an independent alcohol strategy proposed by a coalition of independent health bodies in 2013. Scotland’s main weakness was rated as its involvement of alcohol industry in policy decisions – public health groups argue industry should only be involved as producers, retailers and distributors, and not be permitted to influence policy.

Meanwhile Scotland’s infamous long running effort to implement MUP has been repeatedly challenged by sections of the alcohol industry led by the Scotch Whisky Association. The most recent appeal was described as amounting to ‘delaying tactics’ by AFS and others who remain hopeful that MUP will finally be authorised to commence this year.

Certainly it appears the Scottish Government support an alcohol policy approach that public health groups deem largely evidence based. Many including PHE suggest the same approach is needed in England, albeit that MUP has not technically been ruled out. However given the broader political context, those wishing to influence alcohol policy may feel now may not be the most opportune time. Equally, alcohol and related health policy debates may still be considered relatively high profile and with many MPs now routinely involved in a number of alcohol-related issues.

We are cheering you along from down here Scotland!!