March 16, 2009 / 8:00 AM / 10 years ago

UK's top medic looks to take on "binge drinking"

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s chief doctor is expected to advise the government on Monday to sharply raise the price of alcohol to try to combat soaring levels of so-called “binge drinking,” especially among young people.

In a report, chief medical officer Liam Donaldson is expected to recommend that the government set a minimum price of 50 pence ($0.70) per unit of alcohol sold, which would nearly double the price of some discount beer and wine.

The advice, which would be non-binding on the government, follows consistent evidence that Britain has a worsening problem with teenage drinking and with “binge drinking” in general — when vast quantities are consumed in a short space of time.

The latest government statistics show that nearly 40 percent of men and a quarter of women exceed the recommended daily limit on alcohol consumption, while young people and teenagers are consuming ever more quantities of high-alcohol “alcopops.”

Scotland, which has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world, said last month it was looking into setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol and Donaldson’s recommendations would follow much the same approach.

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, which revealed details of his proposals, said it was particularly aimed at raising the price of highly discounted supermarket beer and wine.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said she could not comment on the report as it was not yet published but said the government was looking to tackle issues with discount alcohol.

“We have not ruled out taking action on very cheap alcohol — it’s clearly linked to people drinking more and the subsequent harm to their health,” the spokeswoman said.

“We need to do more work on this to make sure any action we take is appropriate, fair and effective.”


Britain has the 10th highest alcohol consumption in the world, according to the World Health Organization, with the equivalent of nearly 12 liters of pure alcohol consumed by each member of the population per year.

The National Health Service spends more than $4 billion a year treating alcohol-related illnesses, with around 400,000 people admitted to hospital with drink problems, according to government figures. A sizeable number are children under 14.

Taking into account the costs of policing, the number of working hours lost to hangovers, and the vandalism caused by drunken behavior, the annual cost of alcohol misuse is estimated to be as high as 25 billion pounds ($38 billion).

While drinks’ manufacturers are concerned new government measures could discriminate against those who are responsible drinkers, the public is broadly aware that Britain has a problem and that its poor reputation needs addressing.

In France and Italy, the press have adopted the English expression “binge drinking” to describe burgeoning problems with youth drinking that have alarmed commentators there.

Editing by Richard Williams

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