‘Hike Price to Fight Booze Culture’

Raising the price of alcohol is the controversial cure to the Welsh boozing culture, according to doctors. Alcohol-related deaths have increased more than four-fold among Welsh men and more than three-fold among women in the past 20 years, according to the report from the National Public Health Service for Wales. It says the price of alcohol relative to national income has more than halved since the 1960s. During the same period alcohol consumption has more than doubled in Wales.

The report says the public has the impression most alcohol-related deaths are through accidents or violence, but long-term illness is a more likely killer. Increasing the price of beer by just 1p can have an impact on people’s drinking habits, the report’s authors say.

Alcohol and Health in Wales: A Major Public Health Issue warns that heavy drinking among teenagers is as bad as any European country – except Denmark. It warns that 170 men and 90 women in Wales are likely to die of alcohol-related conditions this year.

Excessive drinking is causing a wide range of illness among people in Wales, according to the authors.

Cirrhosis of the liver is one of the major causes of death from alcohol misuse. Cancers, mental illness and accidents are others.

Dr Edward Coles, the report’s author, said, “Mediterranean-style drinking is no panacea. Comparison of different European countries shows that it is associated with high rates of cirrhosis.

“There is a tendency to think of crime and disorder as being the main cause of illness associated with excessive drinking.

“However, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, mental illness, accidents, unwanted pregnancies and babies damaged by their mothers’ drinking are also important.

“Excessive alcohol use is a serious public health problem in Wales. Health would improve substantially if there was a reduction in the number of people who drink more than the guidelines.”

Guidance indicates that men should drink less than 21 units a week and women should have less than 14 units.

Dr Coles said, “There are two mechanisms that have been shown to produce a substantial reduction in alcohol consumption – increased price and reduced availability.”

He said Cardiff University research suggested that an increase in the price “even as little as 1p”, does lead to a reduction in drinking.

“People must be aware that excess alcohol use can damage your health in ways other than getting into fights and domestic violence.

“Getting drunk and damaging your health is something which is almost approved of. It shouldn’t be, but that would require a substantial change in attitudes.”

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd raised concern over the age profile of Wales’ drinkers.

“Youngsters are drinking alcopops in vast amounts and I am very unhappy about Government inactivity on this. The Government has acknowledged there is a big problem but it is happy for the brewers to regulate themselves. I don’t know whether raising prices would be effective. When people are used to drinking large amounts of alcohol they will probably continue.

“We need to make people aware of the damage alcohol does, in particular the very young. I am not a killjoy, I like a beer or a glass of wine myself, but I also know that youngsters are downing vast amounts of alcohol and when they are in their late 20s it will hit them.”

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, director of the Violence Research Group at Cardiff University and a consultant face and jaw surgeon, said changing alcohol prices could have an effect on cutting the number of drinkers.

He said, “Alcohol is a lot more affordable now than it used to be. Increasing alcohol prices is very likely to result in less consumption and therefore less harm across the board.

“The instant effect of that would be fewer people getting injured on a Friday and a Saturday night and then in the long term, there would be a decrease in consumption and long-term chronic effects. Part of the answer is to abolish cheap drink promotions and happy hours.”

John Price, secretary of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association Wales, said the price of beer was already too high for pubs and Government should target supermarkets instead.

He said, “I honestly think the Government is trying to close pubs. What they don’t realise is that it is not what people drink in the pubs that is cheap, it’s what they drink from the supermarkets.”