Drinks sector boycotts alcohol abuse initiative

The drinks industry has snubbed a Government-backed consultation organised by Alcohol Concern which could form the bedrock of a national strategy to reduce the health and social costs of alcohol misuse.

Junior health minister Tessa Jowell has publicly welcomed Alcohol Concern’s initiative to carry out the fact-finding exercise, which aims to put together a clear framework on alcohol policy across the many government departments with an interest in these issues. She said last April: “I hope the industry will also want to take an active part.”

But the industry has ignored her calls and boycotted the project.

The consultation consists of a detailed questionnaire covering issues such as health, licensing and advertising and sponsorship and follows a Green Paper on public health entitled “Our Healthier Nation”.

The Brewers’ & Licensed Re-tailers’ Association, which represents 85 companies including pub operators and brewers such as Bass and Whitbread, has refused to co-operate because it says Alcohol Concern’s involvement is “inappropriate”.

A spokesman adds: “We’re happy to talk to the Department of Health, but we don’t think it appropriate that Alcohol Concern is the body that writes the policy.”

The industry’s refusal to take part comes after certain brewers and distillers have faced strong censure for marketing alcopops, which critics claim targeted children with their packaging and branding.

The industry believes Alcohol Concern, which was a fierce critic of the way alcopops were marketed, is pushing an anti-alcohol agenda. Alcohol Concern is a registered charity, which claims to reduce the incidence, cost and harm of alcohol misuse.

The Portman Group, the industry-funded body which aims to promote sensible drinking, also refused to respond to the questionnaire, except to send a copy of its earlier response to the Green Paper.

Jean Coussins, director of The Portman Group, says: “I didn’t have anything to add.”

Specific action on alcohol lags far behind the Government’s high-profile commitment to tackling drug abuse. In April, Jowell told the International Conference on Alcohol that the Government is preparing a new strategy on alcohol, pulling together different issues and interests.

She said: “As an immediate response to the Green Paper, Alcohol Concern has secured private sector support to enable it to carry out a widespread consultation exercise.”

A DoH spokeswoman is trying to distance the department from the initiative. She says: “I know we had an interest in it, but it is not something that we commissioned.”

Eric Appleby, director of Alcohol Concern, says: “We are disappointed that the industry doesn’t feel able or willing to take part.”

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