Alcohol industry could lose £13bn if drinkers follow guidelines

23rd August, 2018 by Nicola Carruthers

A new study has estimated that the alcohol industry would lose £13 billion (US$16.7bn) if all drinkers in England followed the recommended consumption guidelines.

Almost two-thirds of alcohol sales in England are to heavy drinkers

Almost two-thirds of alcohol sales in England are to heavy drinkers

The research found that the £13 billion loss equals 40% of the industry’s revenue.

Almost two-thirds of alcohol sales in England are to heavy drinkers, according to a paper published in the journal Addiction.

Researchers at the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group carried out the report.

Drinkers who consume more than the UK Government’s low-risk guideline of 14 units a week make up 25% of the population but provide 68% of alcohol industry revenue, they claimed.

The 4% of the population whose drinking is considered harmful – more than 35 units a week for women and more than 50 for men – account for almost a quarter (23%) of revenue.

The study “raises questions about the appropriateness of the industry’s continued influence on government alcohol policy” and argues that producers and retailers “may have a strong financial incentive” to encourage heavy drinking to continue.

It found that 81% of sales in supermarkets and off-licences come from those drinking above guideline levels compared with 60% in pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants.

Heavy drinkers generate a larger share of revenue for producers of beer (77%), cider (70%) and wine (66%) than spirits (50%), researchers claimed.

Aveek Bhattacharya, policy analyst at the IAS and the lead author of the paper, said: “Alcohol causes 24,000 deaths and over 1.1m hospital admissions each year in England, at a cost of £3.5bn to the NHS. Yet policies to address this harm, like minimum unit pricing and raising alcohol duty, have been resisted at every turn by the alcohol industry. Our analysis suggests this may be because many drinks companies realise that a significant reduction in harmful drinking would be financially ruinous.

“The government should recognise just how much the industry has to lose from effective alcohol policies, and be more wary of its attempts to derail meaningful action through lobbying and offers of voluntary partnership.”

However, Miles Beale, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), says that most people in the UK are able to enjoy a drink responsibly.

He said: “The latest ONS data shows that alcohol consumption in the UK has fallen 19% over the last decade, and people are less likely to binge drink than they were 10 years ago.

“Alcohol-related hospital admissions are down and producers are responding to consumer demands for lower-alcohol drinks by increasing their range of innovative low-and-no alcohol products.

“The drinks industry continues to work in partnership with government, most recently helping with the government’s Alcohol Strategy, to tackle alcohol-related harms.”

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