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Take our test: Are you one of Britain's 8m problem drinkers?

 

Drunken yobs to get government help to cut drinking

 

 

By JAMES SLACK - More by this author » Last updated at 11:26am on 6th June 2007 commentIconSm.gif Comments (41)

drunk1_228x263.jpgThe report found there are more than 7 million problem drinkers in Britain

 

Supermarkets and pubs could face restrictions on the sale of cheap alcohol after ministers claimed that Britain has 8.2million problem drinkers.

 

This figure would mean that one in every six adults is either dependent on alcohol or rated a "hazardous or harmful" drinker.

 

To qualify as a problem drinker, a man must consume eight glasses of alcohol in a single night each week, and a woman six.

 

Anybody who has been told by a relative, friend or health worker that they are concerned about the amount they drink during the last year also falls into the category.

 

Ministers will now consider making alcohol too expensive for "problem drinkers" to afford. Targets include children and middle-aged people who consume large amounts of wine and beer at home.

 

More....

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But the proposals, which follow Labour's last attempt at tackling Britain's binge-drinking culture in 2004, were under fire from all sides last night.

Doctors, who have warned of a "health timebomb" caused by alcohol abuse, said they did not go far enough, while Opposition MPs attacked the hypocrisy of a Government which unleashed 24-hour drinking lecturing the public.

And pubs and retailers said the only group to suffer would be the law-abiding majority.

The Home Office and Department of Health, who are jointly in charge of the £10million alcohol strategy, insisted, however, that doing nothing was not an option.

According to DoH figures, there are 1.1million "dependent drinkers" who cost the health economy £403million a year.

A further 7.1million "hazardous and harmful drinkers" cost the health service £1.3billion a year.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: "It's almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk and we want to change that attitude.

"It is unacceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on.

"I think attitudes have dramatically changed in relation to drinkdriving and smoking - we need to have that same sort of discussion and debate around binge-drinking as well."

Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, denied Labour was targeting "middle-aged, middle-class drinkers".

But she added: "There are people, adults, who on a very regular basis are probably drinking twice the amount that is recommended."

Ministers said a new independent review will look at how the price of alcohol affects the amount people consume, particularly problem drinkers.

The cost of alcohol could be increased, with minimum prices set by law, while supermarkets will be placed under pressure to stop selling heavily discounted products.

The Government wants to end "loss leader" promotions enticing customers into a store by selling drink, such as wine or continental lager at heavily reduced prices.

If they fail to act, ministers are prepared to legislate to force them to sell alcohol more responsibly, though Mr Coaker held back from advocating an outright ban on sales tactics such as happy hours.

Mark Hastings, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: "Not only do high prices penalise the majority of sensible people, they are totally ineffective at tackling those intent on misusing alcohol.

"This will only drive the problem groups out of the formal market and underground. They will buy alcohol illicitly, or even brew it themselves."

Liver expert Professor Roger Williams, who treated the late footballing legend George Best, said more needed to be done about problem drinking, including increasing the legal age for buying alcohol from 18 to 21.

Doctors also want compulsory labelling warning of the dangers of drinking.

"The problems are getting worse - increased death rates from liver disease, young people drinking, alcohol consumption going up," said Professor Williams, of University College Hospital, London.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "We will look at these proposals in detail but it is important they do not become yet another stealth mechanism for the Government to ditch their responsibility to tackle serious crime.

"People should remember that half of all violent crime is fuelled by alcohol."

More than 8 million Britons are 'problem drinkers', according to shocking new figures released today.

New analysis from the Department of Health said the cost to the health economy was £1.3 billion.

The figures, which have not been published before, also said there were 1.1m "dependent drinkers" who cost the health economy £403 million.

In a bid to tackle the growing problem of binge-drinking and under-age drinkers, the Home Office is introducing a raft of measures including given drunken yobs information about how to cut their boozing.

 

Ministers revealed that alcohol referral schemes will be introduced to drunks in the same way that drug addicts are currently sent for compulsory counselling after being arrested.

 

The Home Office and Department of Health have held back from banning certain drinks promotions such as happy hours or "buy one get one free".

Instead, an independent national review will examine the relationship between alcohol promotions and the harm caused by drink.

Its findings will then be put up for discussion to see whether the public would support moves such as a ban on cut-price drink, the updated version of the Government's alcohol strategy said.

The strategy paper said: "Points of intervention will be introduced following arrest, through conditional caution and through disposal.

"Offenders will be given the facts about unsafe drinking and its link to criminal behaviour."

The report contained the startling figure that there are more than seven million problem drinkers in the country.

A new analysis from the Department of Health said there were an estimated 7.1 million "hazardous and harmful drinkers" and the cost to the health economy was £1.3 billion.

It added that investing £28.3 million on identifying the problems and giving advice would save an estimated £46.7 million.

The figures, which have not been published before, also said there were 1.1m "dependent drinkers" who cost the health economy £403 million.

Drunks will be offered advice and treatment and ministers will look at ways to make them pay for such measures, it added.

There will also be a new generation of publicity campaigns which ministers said would mark a major turning point in the bid to educate the public about the effects of booze.

It may use more methods than the current TV, radio and print campaigns, for example using the internet more widely.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said: "It is unacceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on.

"I think attitudes have dramatically changed in relation to drink-driving and smoking - we need to have that same sort of discussion and debate around binge-drinking as well."

On the review of alcohol pricing and promotions, which will be published by next April, Mr Coaker said: "We want to look at the whole issue of price and promotions.

"We have got a voluntary code over things like happy hours. The review will then look at all of that and go out to consultation to see what people regard as acceptable or not.

"What we are trying to do is get responsible promotions."

Home Office minister Baroness Scotland insisted that introducing conditional cautions where punishments are imposed without going to court were not a soft option.

"It's not a slap on the wrist, it is having a menu of measures that we can turn to in order to respond appropriately and appropriately toughly to the situation which we are facing," she said.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all situation. For some people we will have to be much more rigorous because their behaviour demands it."

The strategy will also kick off a root-and-branch stock-take of NHS spending on alcohol-related illness.

Health minister Caroline Flint said it would help the service prioritise spending and become more efficient in tackling the problem. Mr Coaker said: "It's almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk and we want to change that attitude."

Ms Flint added: "This isn't a crackdown on middle-class wine drinkers per se. It's about saying if you are drinking over the limit on a daily basis, you could be storing up problems for yourself down the road."

Liver expert Professor Roger Williams, who treated the late footballing legend George Best, said more needed to be done, including compulsory labelling of drinks with how many units they contain and increasing the age at which young people can buy alcohol from 18 to 21.

"Everything being said today is laudable, but it's taken so long to get to this stage," said Prof Williams, professor of liver disease (hepatology) at University College Hospital, London.

"We've been pressing for measures for some years - will there really be effective action on any of these issues?

"The problems are getting worse - increased death rates from liver disease, young people drinking, alcohol consumption going up.

"Measures that are needed are an increase in the price of alcohol, access to it to be limited, young people in supermarkets shouldn't be able to buy it without showing identity cards, and the age at which youngsters can buy should be 21, as it is in America.

"The evidence from studies carried out around the world is that if you make alcohol more accessible, or lower its price, then alcohol consumption goes up.

"If alcohol consumption goes up, you get more diseases and more deaths."

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The Nanny state should put a cork in it over drinking

 

By CAROL SARLER - More by this author » Last updated at 22:01pm on 6th June 2007 commentIconSm.gif Comments

Quick! Hide that corkscrew and cover up the wine rack.

 

That winning combo of the Home Office and the Department of Health, cheered from the sidelines by the po-faced British Medical Association, has in its stern sights the middle-aged, middle-class delinquents among us who dare to sneak a crafty Merlot in the comfort of our own homes.

 

cartoon0606_468x349.jpgMiddle-class wine drinkers are becoming the latest target of the Nanny State

 

 

With all the militancy of latter-day prohibitionists, ministers claim that one in every six adults has some kind of drink problem -and of particular concern is the older drinker who might quaff an entire bottle of wine over dinner without thought for its effect.

 

We are, therefore, to be "targeted", which is another way of saying that they plan to take £10 million of our money to tick us off about it.

 

Doctors say there should be stringent action, like pricing wine beyond our pockets. I say, on behalf of every sipper and sinner who proudly admits to the love of a nice drop of red, that one more "initiative" or "crackdown" like this and it won't be the drinkers' problem - it'll be the Government's.

 

Most of us are already mightily fed up with this petty administration's determination to stick its nose where it does not belong. And it is hard to think of anything that is less its business than the wholly legal, carefully selected and privately enjoyed contents of our wine glasses.

 

This is not, as some would have it, merely an escalation of the Nanny State; it is, in fact, an escalation of the persistent impulse of this government not to nanny us but to infantilise us, which is not the same thing at all.

 

Any nanny worth her salt has a vested interest in raising a child to sensible, independent adulthood; that is her pride, the culmination of her work. This shower, by contrast, seeks to make us ever more dependent upon it and its machinations, using any old trick in the book to con us into meek compliance.

 

The claim is, always, that it provides us with "information" so that we may make "informed" choices. Actually, it does nothing of the kind.

 

Take, as in this instance of alcohol, the notion of units of alcohol and the corresponding guidelines about how many we might safely consume: the rule of thumb is usually stated as two units a day for women, three for men.

 

But that's not information; that's the laying down of a rule. Proper information would tell us how somebody clever arrived at these figures, the better that we might truly understand the workings of our bodies.

 

The awkward truth, however, is that it is a give-or-take, arbitrary figure, reached by no scientific route, but seized upon as a finite number to slap upon the masses on the basis that most of them are just about bright enough to count to three but not bright enough to argue the toss.

 

In the kind of real life that owes nothing to the artificial rigidity imposed by random figures, most of us know that alcohol, as with much else, affects different people in different ways.

 

I am blessed with a daughter who is squiffy on half a glass of fizz; by contrast, porn-emperor Paul Raymond's daughter Debbie routinely knocked back a bottle of vodka - at lunch! Yet when she died, of other causes, the pathologist told the inquest that she had a perfectly healthy liver for a woman in her 30s.

This is not to say, obviously, that alcohol consumption is without risk; indeed, heavy consumption carries heavy risk.

 

Most of us know this, just as we know that smoking is playing Russian roulette with cancer, that failing to take exercise is bad for us, and that fresh fruit and tons of vegetables are a good thing (although, as with my two units of wine, I remain unconvinced of the genesis of the strict rule of "five portions a day". Who says? And why five?)

 

The point is that we already know speaking personally, I have known and understood every one of those facts for my entire adult life, and have learned not a jot that is new about any of them in the past 30 years - never mind the mere ten years that this government has abused its powers to nag me about them.

 

The point, therefore, is not knowledge but choice, that precious commodity of democracy whose free exercise should be a matter of pride rather than the wagging fingers of our elected officials.

 

Each of us is spurred to choose differently. At one end are the "my-body-is-a-temple crowd"; at the other slumps the couch potato. Most of us come somewhere in between.

 

For myself, I played a tradeoff inspired by little more than superstition: I hit my 40s with a wine glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other, decided that the double whammy made me a hostage to fate and forced myself to pick the preferred vice.

 

An essentially useless, pleasure-free addiction versus the infinite joys of a decent Syrah? No contest. The fags went.

 

Others, perhaps especially among the middle classes that are this week's new "target", choose to drink at home because they find themselves increasingly uncomfortable going out to drink in our 24-hour-licensed, binge-culture High Street troughs.

 

And if that means they pour their drinks with a heavier hand than Mr Wetherspoon, or find it easier to reach for another glass than it would be to stand, queue and pay for another round, then so be it.

 

I remember Delia Smith being asked for tips on using left-over wine at home: "What do you mean, leftover wine?" she replied. Attagirl!

 

At least you can say this for the privet-hedged drinkers: if they harm anybody, it is only themselves.

The bar-drunk hooligans marauding through the streets after dark - or, worse, getting behind the wheel of a car - are risking injury to many more than just their own abused bodies.

It is at this juncture, of course, that the busybodies butt in with what they always consider a trump card: if we risk our health, we risk using up the precious resources of the NHS.

But even leaving aside the obvious question - who paid for those resources in the first place? - it is a fatuous argument, leading as it logically must do to blaming the carcrash victim in intensive care for getting into a car rather than walking and blaming the injured pedestrian for his failure to stay at home.

 

Driver, walker and drinker make their choices; they also choose how much information they care to access, freely, from a pool of available knowledge that is infinitely greater than it has ever been.

 

To remove that choice, to force-feed figures, numbers and units where they are not wanted, is to provoke nothing but righteous outrage and instinctive rebellion.

 

For instant example: if only to establish my independence from this misplacement of interfering authority, I am minded to crack open that charming Malbec I have been hoarding. And you know what? I might even drink the whole damn lot . . . if I so choose.

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Then maybe you should change your name to Captain Morgan!!:P

 

Actually, and for once I'm being quite serious, I'm a direct descendant of Captain Henry Morgan, the man for whom the Rum is named...might explain why I come so close to qualifying,lol.

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