If the Alcohol Industry Depends on ‘Risky’ Drinkers, Is it Time We Did More?

New research shows that a significant proportion of income that keeps the alcohol industry going comes from people who have a potentially unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

In recent years the alcohol industry has stepped up its messaging surrounding “responsible drinking,” and certainly if we look at press materials now compared to those in the past it appears that the alcohol industry is mindful that alcohol can be severely damaging to our health and is taking steps to make sure we’re drinking in moderation and safely.

However, Professor Nick Sheron of Southampton University, who it should be noted is also co-founder of the Alcohol Health Alliance of over 40 health agencies concerned about the alcohol industry, says that Southampton University research shows over two-thirds of the alcohol industry’s main source of profits is coming what are classed as “hazardous” and ”harmful” drinkers. By mining data from the national Health Survey for England, the Southampton researchers were able to calculate that “hazardous” drinkers–women drinking over 14 units per week and men drinking over 21 units per week–made up 38 percent of total sales, while harmful drinkers–women consuming more than 35 units and men consuming more than 50 units–made up 31 percent.

The alcohol industry is quick to point out that in the U.K. the vast majority of people are still moderate drinkers, and that the industry as a whole has moved to highlight the need to drink responsibly. However, while it may be marketing that way, critics say behind the scenes it is preventing regulations from going forward that would actually encourage the public to drink responsibly. For example, the industry has strongly resisted creating a minimum price per unit of 50 pence. This, health experts say, would work on a couple of fronts: It would help to curb binge drinking by making it less affordable to discount alcohol in supermarkets and bars without the need for a complete ban on discounting. It would also mean that, in general, the price of booze would be set at a level that makes buying in bulk far more expensive.

The alcohol industry has traditionally contended that minimum pricing would impact responsible and poorer drinkers despite the fact that, they say, it is the rich who drink the most. However, while affluent men do appear to consume more alcohol, wider data appears to show this gives a false impression: People dealing with poorer economic situations are more likely to consume alcohol to an extent that puts them at risk–and it’s the level of risk that is the main detail here. Research also appears to show, despite what the industry claims, that minimum price setting in places like Canada has worked.

Sheron’s research team isn’t alone in flagging this connection, either. Risky Business, a report authored by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) of Australia, suggests that “the industry’s best customers represent just 20 per cent of Australians aged 14 and above, yet they account for a staggering 74.2 per cent all the alcohol consumed as a nation each year.”

As such, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore of the Alcohol Health Alliance is quoted by the Guardian as saying: “There’s no doubt that the drinks industry depends on excessive drinking to drive its profits. Drinks like high-strength white ciders are preferentially consumed by heavy and dependent drinkers, with 50% of those drinking these ciders drinking more than three litres a day, and the damage these drinks do is widely known. Importantly, minimum unit pricing would target the highest strength drinks which cause the most harm, leaving the price of lower strength drinks relatively untouched. With minimum unit pricing [MUP], moderate drinkers would barely notice the difference.”

So what does this all mean in real terms? These figures appear to show that while the alcohol industry is messaging in a way that seems to encourage “responsible drinking,” we can at least say that what that means to the general public is ill-defined and is not getting through. In addition, regulations that fail to acknowledge this fact will likely be ineffective in helping to solve problem drinking unless they take account these facts.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

54 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Neville Grundy
Neville Grundy1 years ago

There is absolutely no new information in this article that hasn't been published before many times over. The writer is actually out of date concerning the pseudo-science behind the weekly recommended units (21 for men, 14 for woman), as this was recently reduced to 14 for both men and women. Several years ago, one of the scientists on the team that dreamt up the 21 and 14 limits admitted that the figures were more or less plucked out of the air. He wasn't suggesting drinking was a risk-free activity (only a fool would do that); he was simply stating there wasn't any real science behind them.

When recently introducing the new limits, the Chief Medical Officer for England (CMO) stated that every year, over 20,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer caused by drinking alcohol, adding that excessive drinking can cause other health problems too. 20,000 seems a very precise figure to me, and even if a cancer sufferer does drink, that does not mean that the cancer was caused by the drink. Proving the cause of a medical condition in this way isn't always as clear cut as the CMO was trying to suggest.

While a diagnosis of cancer is always a serious matter, it is worth pointing out that statistically you are 25% more likely to be knocked down when crossing the road.

SEND
Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

the 10/80 rule.

SEND
Marc P.
Marc P1 years ago

Anna Bennett: Regarding your statement, "As only the very cheap supermarket beers/ciders etc that are designed to get the drinker drunk fast will become more expensive."... You are basically saying "Target the poor people." Taxation based on discrimination is not cool, regardless of the product.

SEND
Marc P.
Marc P1 years ago

Anna Bennett: Sorry, but MOST people who drink don't drive while doing so. Your claim regarding that is a false flag. And the health care claim is lame also. There are SO MANY more things that create much more costly healthcare costs than alcohol abuse. Including overeating, breathing the air in any city, chemicals in food, in our food, and in our water. Are you saying it is perfectly fine for people to pay taxes for their healthcare as long as they don't use it? many people drink to excess and NEVER see a doctor. Like it or not, what I do in the privacy of my own home is absolutely NONE of your, or anyone else's business. Why don't you volunteer one of the things YOU enjoy to be targeted for higher taxes???

SEND
Anna Bennett
Anna Bennett1 years ago

@Mark P., it is absolutely everybody's business if somebody chooses to overindulge in alcohol because (a) in the UK (where this study took place) and other countries healthcare is paid for by the taxpayer and (b) um, you know what drink driving is, right?. A minimum unit price will barely effect responsible drinkers as only the very cheap supermarket beers/ciders etc that are designed to get the drinker drunk fast will become more expensive.

SEND
Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

I know that pricing will make no difference for the people that are alcoholics. They will pay any price for their drink. The only difference might be that they will drink the same alcohol but maybe go to a cheaper brand but they will keep drinking. It has become a priority in life and all else is second place. Alcohol is one of the most destructive vices and affects more people than just the person indulging. It wrecks families and in worse case scenarios kills and injures innocents through violence and accidents. Alcohol in moderation I have no problem with as I enjoy a shot or two every now and then. But please, don't consider alcoholism a disease....it is a weakness that, when abused, can cause disease.

SEND
Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

I know that pricing will make no difference for the people that are alcoholics. They will pay any price for their drink. The only difference might be that they will drink the same alcohol but maybe go to a cheaper brand but they will keep drinking. It has become a priority in life and all else is second place. Alcohol is one of the most destructive vices and affects more people than just the person indulging. It wrecks families and in worse case scenarios kills and injures innocents through violence and accidents. Alcohol in moderation I have no problem with as I enjoy a shot or two every now and then. But please, don't consider alcoholism a disease....it is a weakness that, when abused, can cause disease.

SEND
Glennis Whitney
Glennis W1 years ago

There are more crimes, deaths, disabilities and injuries through people drinking then people smoking Thank you for caring and sharing.

SEND
Glennis Whitney
Glennis W1 years ago

If you want to drink and drive, drink milk and stay alive. Thank you for caring and sharing.

SEND