Britain has an alcohol problem – and the booze industry can’t afford to get rid of it | James Wilt


Oe have all heard the refrain: ‘Britain has a drinking problem’. It’s a problem that long predates the Covid-19 pandemic, but the evidence for this claim seems more compelling than ever. Millions of people were drinking at harmful levels while stuck at home during the lockdown, and deaths from alcohol – mostly from liver disease – hit a 20-year high in 2020. closure of vital support services has also contributed, with higher relapse rates and fewer referrals from doctors and hospitals, while large numbers of long-term Covid patients are consuming problematic amounts of alcohol, a suggested a small study.

The causes of these patterns seem equally clear: the extreme stress, boredom, trauma and isolation of a protracted and dangerously mismanaged pandemic, combined with Britain’s deep-rooted drinking culture. Brittany and the general human propensity for the relaxing properties of alcohol. These demand-side factors are key to understanding alcohol consumption here – or elsewhere. Beer, wine and spirits are not unilaterally imposed on the British public, but consumed with enthusiastic participation by drinkers.

But what we don’t talk about enough is the influence of supply-side contributors on our domestic consumption: namely, the incredibly powerful multinational corporations that produce and sell alcohol for huge profits. , including brewers (such as AB InBev and Heineken), distillers (such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard) and off-trade and on-trade retailers (such as Tesco and Stonegate, respectively). Alcohol has an extremely long and complex history, but its growing ubiquity is largely the product of its commodification and deregulation by Big Alcohol.

The industry and its army of trade associations and front groups are constantly jostling to increase consumption, market share and profits, manipulating and influencing pricing and taxation, licensing and sales density at the retail, advertising and sponsorships, international trade agreements, obscuring scientific discoveries and delaying public health efforts. Rather than being subjected to intense tobacco-like restrictions, the alcohol industry has so far fought successfully to maintain “self-regulation” and offload liability for alcohol-related harm on “problematic” consumers, in particular through the discourse of “responsible consumption”. ”.

But alcohol-related harm is not limited to people with addictions (around 600,000 people in England alone). Even relatively small doses of alcohol consumed regularly increase the risk of health problems, including digestive and cardiovascular diseases, traumatic injuries, and cancers of the esophagus, liver, and breast; a recent study estimated that nearly 750,000 new cancer cases in 2020 were attributable to alcohol consumption worldwide, of which around 100,000 were due to “moderate consumption”. Previously publicized claims that alcohol, particularly red wine, performs a ‘protective’ function for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are also being questioned and are now considered to be ‘offset by monotonic effects’. . [closely correlated] links with cancer.

The alcohol-related harm crisis is primarily caused by the for-profit alcohol industry structurally incentivizing high-risk drinking. Industry revenue would fall by 38%, or £13billion a year, if all drinkers drank below the guidelines, according to one study. Companies clearly have a vested interest in preventing such reductions, but it is exactly this type of structural change – rather than voluntary and ineffective measures favored by industry – needed to seriously reduce alcohol harm.

Public health organizations, such as the World Health Organization, have long called for action to reduce the power of the alcohol lobby by banning advertising, limiting retail density and hours, and increasing taxes and minimum unit prices. Other policies along these lines include mandatory nutrition information and warning labels, prohibiting industry participation in policy-making, and coordinating global restrictions to limit predatory capital flight. The profit motive that drives ever-expanding consumption should also be curbed by increased public ownership of production and retailing. But restrictions alone will not suffice.

We also desperately need to start a conversation around real alternatives to its use. For starters, there must be a massive expansion of free, public alcohol-specific health care for high-risk drinkers who do not require sobriety as a condition of use, including alcohol management programs. alcohol, therapies, drug treatments and psychiatric care. This should also include the public development of desirable alternatives such as “synthetic alcohol”, the legalization and regulation of low-risk psychoactive drugs, and the promotion of public spaces that are not exclusively focused on alcohol consumption. .

Ultimately, it’s about expanding opportunities for relaxation, socialization, and fun in a way that doesn’t end up killing, hurting, or hurting. This is undoubtedly a huge undertaking given Big Alcohol’s dominance of global politics, discourse and imagination. Radical and systemic political action is urgently required if we are to have any chance of solving Britain’s great alcohol problem – or we will continue to mourn it.

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