Tougher laws for drinks industry imminent

The alcohol industry is expected to be hit with legislation on “happy hour” promotions and labelling after Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo launched a consultation into the country’s drinking culture.

The consultation, which is launched today (July 22), would see the industry’s self-regulation code on retailing become mandatory. It would mean restrictions on the way alcohol is sold in pubs, bars and nightclubs, including banning large glasses or measures, restricting promotions and mandatory point of sale information. Shop checkouts will also not be allowed to display alcohol-related promotions.

The Department of Health consultation follows the KPMG review of alcohol industry standards, which has found that the voluntary retail code is not being followed by bars, cubs and pubs (MW.co.uk, July 21, 2008). It also found evidence of poor practice in the way alcohol is promoted.

Manufacturers will be given until the end of the year to put the required warnings and advice on bottles and cans. If the target is not met, the Government will move to put a mandatory scheme in place. This would require health and unit information on all drinks containers.

The Government says that it has launched the consultation because new evidence suggests that alcohol is a far wider cause of damage to people’s health than previously suspected.

Separately, Sheffield University has launched the first stage of findings of its report into price and promotion. The research finds clear evidence linking the sale of cheap alcohol to increased consumption, particularly amongst young people and those already drinking at higher risk levels. This leads to stronger evidence that irresponsible retail practices fuels excess drinking and hence harm to health.

The second phase of the review is due to report later this year. A range of options for regulating or restricting how alcohol is priced and promoted will be examined following its conclusion.

Home Office Minister, Tony McNulty, says: “For social responsibility standards in the alcohol industry to work well they should complement the law on alcohol sales, encourage people to drink more safely and be followed consistently across the country. The KPMG report tells us quite plainly that this is not happening. At best, the standards are being applied in fragmented ways. At worst, in many places alcohol is being sold and marketed irresponsibly.

“We now need a new set of standards and over the next few months we will work intensively with industry representatives and other interested groups to breathe new life into the system. We have also made it quite clear that if necessary we will introduce legislation to make the new standards mandatory.”

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