Alcohol harm reduction

Published by Sally on May 8, 2009
1 Comment

A version of this article first appeared in Australian GrapeGrowers & Vignerons, September 2008. 

The UK already has the highest level of wine tax in the EU, and the fourth-highest spirit tax (after Sweden, Ireland and Finland). Yet, as in Australia, the UK is coming under the cosh for levels of binge drinking, under-age drinking, middle-class over-consumption etc. This is despite Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs figures showing total alcohol consumption fell from 9.4 to 8.9 litres per capita from 2004 to 2006.

The Department of Health says the social cost of alcohol abuse is between £17.7bn and £25.1bn. They calculate the cost of alcohol harm to the National Health Service to be £2.7bn.

In July the UK government published a consultation document, which is widely thought may lead to greater legislation over the alcohol drinks industries. But Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the UK’s drinks industries lobbying body, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has said he thinks that before more legislation is introduced, the existing legislation could be put to better use, saying it’s not being fully enforced.

The size of glass is a significant measure being looked at. Twenty odd years ago the ‘standard wineglass size’ in the UK was 125ml.  In many mainstream on trade outlets the smallest wine measure has become a 175ml glass, with 250ml being common or even the only size available.

One 250ml glass of Aussie shiraz, one of our favourite tipples, at 14% is 3.5 units of alcohol (a UK unit is 8g of alcohol compared to an Australian unit of 10g). Regardless of international diversity in measuring units, 3.5 units in the UK means that any woman drinking this single 250ml glass is consuming nearly double her recommended daily allowance.  Under some definitions, she is thus a binge-drinker, much like the recent Australian reports of guidelines suggesting two pints doth a binge drinker make.

Other measures under review include restricting or banning ‘happy hours’; restricting ‘loss-leader’-type promotions on alcohol where the alcohol beverage is sold below cost in supermarkets to pull in consumers, who then complete their ‘big shop’ in the store; restricting the location and siting of alcohol in store, as well as things that the industry say are already growing practice under their self regulations codes, such as point of sale information highlighting health warnings, unit labelling and recommended drinking guidelines.  In May this year the UK government launched a £10 million campaign specifically about units of alcohol, and the industry has launched a ‘Know your drinks’ campaign to run in conjunction, with point of sale detailing, for example “Know your drinks…a 125ml glass of 12% ABV wine is 1.5 units.”

Consultation ( on the government’s renewed alcohol strategy (now archived), closed just three months after it opened, giving some clue as to the speed at which the government was working on the alcohol issue [updated 2017]. The price of alcohol is coming under particular scrutiny with a Sheffield University review into the effects of alcohol pricing, promotion and harm due to make its final report at the end of the year.


One Response to “Alcohol harm reduction”

  1. Mike Harmon Says:

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