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Alcohol abuse kills thousands in Britain every year

An influential committee of British MPs has criticized successive governments for allowing Britain to develop a drinking habit that is killing tens of thousands of people every year.

“Over the last 60 years drinking habits have been transformed. In 1947 the nation consumed 3.5 liters of pure alcohol per head: The current figure is 9.5 liters,” the House of Commons health committee said in a report on Friday.

“This … has been an increasing source of concern. These involve not only the consequences of binge drinking which are a cause of many serious accidents, disorder, violence and crime, but also long-term heavy drinking which causes more harm to health,” said the report.

Alcohol was probably a significant factor in 30,000 to 40,000 deaths per year, the report said, citing figures from the president of the Royal College of Physicians.

The MPs called for an increase in alcohol pricing to deter drinkers, and they estimated that a minimum price of 50 pennies per unit would save more than 3,000 lives per year. A unit of alcohol is about 300 milliliters of normal beer.

They also called for tougher rules for advertising.

Marketing by the drinks industry was 600 to 800 million pounds (960 million to 1.3 billion U.S. dollars) in 2003, according to the report.

Matt Wilson, the spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority which administers TV and print advertising in Britain, told Xinhua: “Based on available evidence those rules that are already in place are going further than the Commons health committee is calling for.

“On TV, drinks adverts can’t be close to children’s programs or close to programs with a significant children’s audience.”

Wilson said there were rules for billboard advertising, restricting their use around schools for instance.

Seymour Fortescue, chairman of Portman Group, said: “We agree that alcohol related harm is increasing, despite the fact that there has been a drop in total consumption over the past five years.

“We acknowledge the views of the medical profession and some politicians that there should be a minimum price for alcohol. However, there

are real concerns as to whether this will work.”

The responsible majority of drinkers will pay more and hardcore drinkers may not be deterred, he said, adding that a fairer and more

effective approach focuses on dependent and binge drinkers. “We can influence the irresponsible minority through better education and effective

law enforcement,” he said.

Pressure groups have expressed their support for the health committee report. Alcohol Concern, a pressure group highlighting the problems of heavy drinking, condemned the government for inaction.

Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker said Britain’s alcohol misuse has reached a “level the government should be ashamed of.”

“With thousands of avoidable deaths and billions of pounds cost to the NHS (National Health Service), it beggars belief that the government is still dithering,” Shenker said.

Alison Rogers, the chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “This report is a damning indictment of the way successive governments have tackled alcohol health harm, with action ranging from the non-existent to

the ineffectual.

“Government vacillation and political cowardice are costing lives. If they don’t act on these recommendations now, they’ll lose all credibility in their stated attempts to change British drinking culture.”

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed in 2008 that between 1985-2005 alcohol consumption increased in Britain by 22 percent, while it fell in Italy by 37 percent, in France by 27 percent and in Germany by 29 percent. Over the same period deaths from liver disease fell in Italy by 58 percent, in France by 50 percent, and in Germany

by 28 percent, but rose in Britain by 136 percent.

The committee’s report comes just a week after a report by the Royal College of Surgeons and the NHS Confederation which deplore Britain’s

drinking culture and its cost to the NHS.

The report by the two health professional bodies said that during 2006-07 alone, alcohol was estimated to have cost the NHS 2.7 billion pounds (4.38 billion dollars).

source: Business Ghana

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