Welcome to SHAAP’s (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) weekly media monitoring service.

13 August 2015



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This briefing aims to provide a ‘snap shot’ of latest news on alcohol and health policy. The inclusion of an article in the briefing should not imply that SHAAP approves or condones the content.

SHAAP provides a coordinated, coherent and authoritative medical and clinical voice on the need to reduce the impact of alcohol related harm on the health and wellbeing of the people in Scotland. SHAAP was set up by the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges, through their Scottish Intercollegiate Group (SIGA) and is governed by an Executive Committee made up of members of the Royal Colleges.

Are your drinking habits damaging your health?

Two cans of lager for a man, or two standard glasses of wine for a woman, might not sound excessive - but regularly consuming any more than this means you're flouting official alcohol guidelines and, yes, possibly damaging your health.

New research has found that many Britons disregard the guidelines, and often because they don't believe they're relevant to them as they don't drink every day, but may drink heavily at weekends.

The findings - from the universities of Stirling and Sheffield for the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS) - have revealed that the guidelines are widely ignored for this reason. The research has also highlighted how many people think the recommended number of units allowed (UK guidance suggests men shouldn't regularly exceed three to four units a day, which is equivalent to two cans of regular strength lager; one can is 1.8 units, and women shouldn't regularly drink more than two to three units daily, equivalent to one 175ml glass of wine; 2.3 units) are unrealistic, as they don't recognise that many people drink to get drunk.

Tight for a reason
While the guidelines might seem stingy, they exist for a reason, as evidence suggests that keeping within these limits means the risk of developing health problems associated with alcohol will be low.

According to experts, people who often drink just above the suggested amount increase their risk of ill-health significantly. For example, some say regularly drinking two large glasses of wine or two pints of strong lager a day could make you three times as likely to get mouth cancer, while regularly drinking just above the guidelines increases the risk of breast cancer by around 20%, and the risk of liver cirrhosis becomes 1.7 times higher.

Despite findings like these, there seems to be a disconnect between the general public and the health risks.

"People are sceptical about Government health advice, and the guidelines, as they're currently structured, don't really speak to people's drinking habits," says Linda Bauld, a professor of health policy at the University of Stirling. "It's not so much that people think alcohol's not a problem - around 80% of people in one survey we did, recognised that the UK has a problem with alcohol. But when they think about themselves, they don't necessarily see a problem.

"The guidelines are useful for giving people some indication of where risk starts. Also, some people really aren't interested in longer-term health risks," adds Bauld, who suggests that highlighting the more immediate risks of drinking too much, like accidents and injury, could be more effective.

Savings units for the weekend
The study found that people do regulate their drinking - but this is usually because of practical issues, such as needing to go to work or having childcare responsibilities, rather than health concerns or following guidance.

Bauld, who is also Cancer Research UK's cancer prevention champion, notes that many people think they can save their units for the weekend, but she stresses: "I know that's wrong.

"If you look at breast cancer, the risk from alcohol consumption starts at a very low level. So a woman who's drinking a bottle of wine on a Saturday night is at higher risk than a woman who doesn't drink at all."

She suggests that drinking half a bottle of wine a night for some women has been normalised in the UK, despite the fact many studies have shown such amounts are damaging,

"I don't think people really believe it," she says. "People's understanding of the risk factors of drinking alcohol and getting cancer are very low - most people don't think alcohol causes cancer."

The risks aren't the same across all diseases, of course. Where heart disease is concerned, studies suggest there's no significant difference in risk levels between drinking a bottle of wine at the weekend and drinking a few units throughout the week.

"I suppose it depends which condition you're concerned about," says Bould. "But if a woman's drinking two bottles of wine over the weekend, for example, she's putting herself at higher risk of a pretty significant range of health conditions."

Flexible approach

The UKCTAS study found many Brits think Australian and Canadian alcohol guidelines, which include separate advice for regular and single occasion drinkers, are more relevant and flexible.

In the Australian guidelines, the single occasion limits suggest drinking no more than four standard drinks on one occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury. The daily guidance, meanwhile, is to drink no more than two standard drinks a day, for men and women.

The Department of Health says the UK's alcohol guidance is currently under review, and there'll be consultations later this year.

"I think you've got to be realistic, certainly in relation to the health harms of alcohol," says Bauld. "In the revised guidelines, which we may see early next year, I think we'll see a higher unit recommendation over the week - a weekly limit, which is what Australia and Canada have."

Emily Robinson, deputy chief executive of Alcohol Concern, agrees that many people find the current alcohol guidelines confusing.

"People often see the guidelines as an allowance on what they can drink in a week, when the point is to highlight how it doesn't take much alcohol to lead to a risk of developing health problems."

Take a break
Rather than focusing on what people can drink, Alcohol Concern suggests there should be more emphasis on taking a break from alcohol, and having at least two or three alcohol-free days a week.

The charity also wants health warnings on alcohol, as is standard in other countries.

Robinson points out that because alcohol impairs judgement and responses, drinkers are also more at risk of having an accident, being assaulted or doing something they'll regret. And such problems are more likely after binge-drinking, which is officially classed as more than eight units of alcohol (or three pints of strong beer) for a man, or more than six units (or two large glasses of wine) for a woman.

"There is no 'safe' level of alcohol consumption," stresses Robinson. "The guidelines are a suggested maximum for the public and drinking too much, too often, can cause all sorts of health problems, mentally and physically."

Alcohol health harms

As well as being associated with weight gain and negatively affecting skin, mood and sexual performance, regularly drinking over the lower-risk guidelines is linked with a number of serious health problems, including:

:: Increased risk of cancer of the throat, oesophagus or larynx

:: Breast cancer in women

:: Stroke

:: Heart disease

:: High blood pressure

:: Liver disease such as cirrhosis and liver cancer

:: Pancreatitis

:: Reduced fertility

NHS Highland opposes Lidl plans to extend supermarket alcohol display

HEALTH officials are on a collision course with discount supermarket Lidl over its plans to increase the amount of alcohol displayed in its Inverness Telford Street store.

Lidl wants to increase the amount of alcohol displayed from 45 square metres to 51 square metres to allow for alcohol and product “theme weeks”.

But NHS Highland is opposing the move in what is set to be an important test of the health board’s policy of attempting to restrict the number of licensed outlets in the region.

In a submission to today’s Highland Licensing Board meeting, public health consultant Elizabeth Smart argued that alcohol-related health problems will increase if the plans go ahead.

She points out that Scotland has one of the highest rates of chronic liver disease in Europe.

She writes: “It is estimated in Highland there are 11,400 males and 4641 females aged 18 and over who are alcohol dependant.

“The 40.5 per cent of Highland population exceeding weekly and/or daily drinking limits and the 17.1 per cent of individuals drinking more than double the daily recommended limit remains of grave concern.”

The issue is being discussed by the licensing board today.

In her report to members, Wendy Grosvenor. licensing officer, says the proposed increase in capacity conflicts with the board’s policy for alcohol sales in supermarkets.

The board previously agreed there was an over provision of alcohol and there is now a presumption against approving applications from stores wishing to increase the size of their drink sales counter beyond 40 square metres.

She writes: “Lidl is undoubtedly a responsible retailer and their stated commitment to supporting the principles of the licensing objectives has much to be commended.

“However, I remain to be convinced that this application to increase the capacity is supported by robust and reliable evidence to rebut the board’s presumption.”

Sport TV exposes thousands of kids to alcohol ads

New research shows children are  exposed to thousands of alcohol adverts each year while watching sports on TV, quesioning the effectiveness of advertising regulations.

The study was funded by VicHealth, the Australian Research Council and Australian National Preventative Health Agency, and conducted by Monash University, Australia, which was published in the international journal PLOS ONE.

The results revealed that 87% of all alcohol adverts are aired during daytime were broadcast in sport TV when potentially hundreds of thousands of children are watching.

The research is the first of its kind to analyse the extent of alcohol advertising in sport compared to non-sport TV, as well as match times when alcohol advertising was show on TV when children and young adults were known to be watching.

A total of 6,049 alcohol adverts were shown on free-to-air sport TV during 2012, with “significantly” more alcohol adverts per hour in sport than non-sport TV.

“Taking into account the amount of programming time for sport vs. non-sport TV there’s four alcohol adverts in sport for every one in non-sport TV,” commented Kerry O’Brien, associate professor and study lead. “Australian children love watching sport but unfortunately they are going to have to watch a lot of alcohol ads as well.

“The research data would suggest you’d have a large increase in children’s exposure to alcohol advertising.

“I can understand that advertisers and alcohol companies want to make money for shareholders, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of young peoples’ health.”

International research supports that greater exposure to alcohol advertising in children and teenagers is connected with “earlier alcohol initiation and more problematic drinking in later life”.

If the regulations permitting alcohol advertising in sport during the daytime were omitted, and alcohol advertising was restricted to after 9.30pm, the researchers said it would half the amount of exposure to children.

Dr Sherilene Carr, study co-author, said “Watching sport with your kids is a great family entertainment, but if culture is what you see around you, then it’s pretty clear from these results that what children see when they watch sport is a drinking culture.”

Majority of pregnant women unclear on alcohol guidelines

The majority (80%) of pregnant women are unclear on alcohol consumption and are stricter than they need to be, new research suggests.

The survey of expectant mums from charity Drinkaware revealed that nearly 9 in 10 (88%) of mums don’t approve of drinking during pregnancy at all, or only approve of the occasional sip on special occasions.

While 81% of the women surveyed were given advice without having to ask, showing how proactive health professionals are being, 33% said that the information given was not easy to understand.

Responding to the research, Elaine Hindal, chief executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware said:“When we spoke to mums they told us that the variety of information available on alcohol and pregnancy can appear to be conflicting.

“Our research highlights the importance of parents receiving clear and consistent advice so that they can make informed choices about drinking alcohol during pregnancy. For many mums the current Government guidelines do not go far enough,” she added.

One in seven drink more alcohol than water

A new study has revealed that on average one in seven adults choose to drink alcohol over water.

The research was conducted by home carbonation product maker SodaStream, which surveyed 1,000 adults in the UK on their typical water intake.

The results found that 15% of the people surveyed admit they drink more alcohol than water – equivalent to one in seven.

In addition, less than one in four adults regularly drink the government-recommended two litres of water, and 52% choose to have a tea or coffee instead – with 30% saying they need caffeine more than water.

Despite this, figures from a separate study undertaken earlier this year found alcohol consumption in the UK has declined by 18% compared to 10 years ago, hitting a 23-year low overall.

Additional research has prompted critics of current alcohol intake guidelines to label them a “poor fit” with the UK’s binge drinking habits, with Brits largely disregarding daily intake suggestions as most people in the UK do not drink everyday, but do drink heavily at weekends.

Alcohol campaign toasts early success

A campaign to tackle the number of adults in North Lanarkshire who buy alcohol for under 18s has detected 44 offences so far this summer.

The campaign is jointly co-ordinated by the Scottish Government Alcohol Industry Partnership (SGAIP), the North Lanarkshire Community Safety Partnership and Police Scotland.

Of these 44 offences, 38 related to adults attempting to purchase alcohol for under 18s and six were licensed premises reported for selling alcohol to proxy purchasers.

The majority (70 per cent) of those caught buying alcohol for under 18s were male, while 60 per cent of the under 18s trying to obtain alcohol were female.

The offences took place in Motherwell (11) and Wishaw (33).

Pavement graffiti is now in place at locations where proxy purchasers have been caught to deter adults from buying alcohol for under 18s.

Sentences and fines will be decided as soon as each case is processed by the Scottish Courts.

Buying alcohol for anyone under the age of 18 is a criminal offence which carries a fine of up to £5,000 or up to three months in prison, or both.

Police Scotland are upping patrols in areas where proxy purchase is known to take place, as the crack-down on alcohol purchases for under 18s continues.

John Lee, chairman of the SGAIP Campaigns Group, said: “We’re already seeing the impact of the campaign throughout North Lanarkshire.

“Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to raise awareness of the consequences to help reduce the number of attempted alcohol purchases for under 18s.”

Inspector Alistair Anderson at Police Scotland said: “Those who are asked to buy alcohol for under 18s need to be aware of the consequences of their actions and know that we are cracking down on attempted purchases.

“We know where these purchases take place and will be increasing patrols in these areas. Underage drinking contributes to antisocial behaviour, crime and violence in our local communities and will not be tolerated.”

Councillor Jim McCabe, leader of North Lanarkshire Council and chairman of the North Lanarkshire Partnership Board, said: “The pavement graffiti is a very visible way of highlighting the campaign message that people trying to buy alcohol for under 18s are being targeted by police.

“It’s an innovative approach to a common problem, and lets people know we won’t tolerate proxy buying.”

The campaign will run in North Lanarkshire until the end of summer and learnings and successes from this trial will shape future campaigns across Scotland.

UK drink-driving accidents at a record low

The number of drink-drive accidents on Britain's roads has dropped to the lowest level since records began.

There were 5,690 drink-driving related accidents in 2013, a drop of almost 1,000 from 6,630 the year before, Department for Transport (DfT) figures show.

Despite the drop, the number of people killed in crashes linked to alcohol consumption remained at 240, unchanged for the fourth year. In the past decade the number of deaths has dropped significantly from 580 in 2004 to 240 from 2010 onwards.

The number of young drivers killed or seriously injured in drink-driving crashes has halved since 2009, from 300 to 150, but RAC chief engineer David Bizley said too many younger drivers are still being killed because of drink-driving.

Mr Bizley said: "While it is encouraging that the numbers of people killed or seriously injured as a result of accidents involving young drink-drivers has fallen since 2002, the sad and all-too-familiar fact is that younger drivers still account for a disproportionate number of all drink-drive casualties.

"Education, new technologies such as telematics and graduated licensing potentially all have roles to play. Government, and indeed all of those who share an interest in reducing casualties on our roads, need to use all means at their disposal to address the problem now."

A DfT spokesman said: "Tackling drink-driving is a priority for this Government and we have strengthened enforcement by removing the automatic right for drivers who fail a breathalyser test to demand a blood or urine test. This has denied people the chance to sober up while waiting for the test to be taken.

"High-risk offenders are now also required to prove they are no longer alcohol-dependent before being allowed to drive.

"The Government will be looking at the best ways to improve road safety during this Parliament and beyond."

Londoners drink the least alcohol, a study of UK cities shows

Londoners are the least boozy people in Britain, consuming an average of six and a half pints a week, it has been claimed.

Figures obtained by The Sun reportedly show Bristol at the other end of the scale, with adults in the city downing nine pints or glasses of wine every seven days - a figure matched only by Glasgow.

Newcastle and Manchester are just behind with an average of eight and a half pints drunk each week.

It is recommended men drink no more than 21 units a week and women no more than 14. A typical pint of beer or ale contains about two units - roughly the same as a medium glass of wine.

Birmingham and Norwich drink just over seven pints a week, the paper added, while Cardiff drinkers - just across the Severn from boozy Bristol - manage a little more than seven and a half.

The figures echo data released by the Office of National Statistics earlier this year that show one in three Londoners is now teetotal.

The report said the drop in drinking between 2005 and 2013 was "a result of changes among younger adults, with little or no change in older groups".

Shop's bid to sell alcohol approved despite petition

A bid for a convenience store to be allowed to sell alcohol has been granted by licensing bosses.

An application had been lodged with Preston Council to let the Quick Shop in Ribbleton Avenue sell booze.

And the man behind the plans said he was pleased they were given the go-ahead, and now intended to revamp the shop.

Manish Modasia, who is now due to take over ownership of the store, said: “My plan going forward is to transform the store and have a better range.

“I want the local people to feel welcome in store and they can get everything they want from one place - that’s the point of the licence.”

A petition had been submitted against the application and letters of objection were sent to the council, but councillors approved the bid to allow the sale of alcohol for consumption off the site between 7am and 11pm daily.

A report to the licensing sub-committee said the council received 41 letters of representation, but 40 were identical.

One letter said: “I believe this (sale of alcohol) will increase alcohol related crime in the area as well as noise. It will attract yobs, drunks and drug pushers who will operate in front of the school gates.”

The report added: “The licensing authority also received a “petition” which includes 70 names objecting to the application on the grounds that the grant of a premises licence would not promote the prevention of crime and disorder licensing objective.

“The representation statement is not included on any of the pages of the petition that contain signatures. Further, 22 persons who submitted one of the standard letters have also signed the petition.”

Mr Modasia said some objections “weren’t really valid”, but said: “I understand the concerns the residents have around age-restricted sales and about young people hanging around, and we’ve got plans in place to prevent that.

“There’s going to be CCTV on the premises and outside, there’s going to be a strict Check 25 policy.” He said new staff would be brought in and the shop would be a family-run business, and said: “That’s the kind of atmosphere we want to create. It’s about being a part of the community there which is what I want to do.”

Limit your alcohol intake to lose pounds

If you enjoy a glass of wine or two to help you wind down, think before you drink, says Kirsty Walton of KW Fitness.

You could be overloading on empty calories that have no nutritional value.

Two large glasses of wine not only puts us over the recommended daily limit for regular alcohol consumption but provides women with 20 per cent of our recommended daily calorie intake – a staggering 370kcal.

According to the Royal Society for Public Health, among those adults who drink, an estimated 10 per cent of their daily calorie intake comes from alcohol.

Experts are warning that drinker’s ignorance of the calorie content of alcohol and the increasing trend to serve large glasses of wine are contributing to Britain’s obesity crisis.

A recent study by America’s Harvard University found that four fifths of adults questioned were unaware of the calorie content of common drinks and most didn’t realise that alcohol contributed to the total calories they consumed.

Wine, beer, cider and spirits are manufactured using natural starch and sugar. Fermentation, and distillation for certain drinks, produces the alcohol content which is why alcohol is laden with calories – 7kcal a gram, almost as much as a gram of pure fat.

A pint of cider can contain around five teaspoons of sugar. According to the NHS, alcoholic drinks account for 11 per cent of the UK population’s daily intake of added sugar.

And there’s more bad news. If you exercise regularly, alcohol reduces your performance in the gym so you burn fewer calories during a workout.

In addition to having to deal with the extra calories, because your body can’t store alcohol, it tries to get rid of it quickly and prioritises metabolising alcohol over burning fat and carbs and absorbing essential nutrients.

The Government’s low risk guidelines for alcohol states that men should not regularly exceed 3-4 units per day and for women, it’s 2-3 units per day. Here are some top tips to help you drink smart.

Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water to keep you hydrated; switch to low alcohol drinks to help manage your sugar consumption; go for diet-friendly alcoholic drinks like prosecco instead of wine as it’s lower in calories; stick to the daily recommended units; don’t drink on an empty stomach as you’re more likely to reach for unhealthy snacks; pace yourself - take small sips; avoid binge drinking – don’t save up your units and splurge at the weekend; add a splash of soda to white wine to help the units last longer; if you use mixers with spirits, always go for diet / low calorie versions; use online tools or apps to keep you on track - try Drinkaware.

Australia proposes limiting Vegemite sales to prevent alcohol abuse

Australia’s government says Vegemite sales should be limited in some communities to prevent the yeast-based spread being used to make home-made alcohol.

Nigel Scullion, the indigenous affairs minister, said the spread - which is considered something of a national culinary staple - was a "precursor to misery" in communities suffering from alcohol abuse.

He said he was not proposing a ban but wanted to restrict excessive sales of high-yeast products such as Vegemite in “dry” communities – typically remote Aboriginal townships where alcohol sales are banned.

“Addiction of any type is a concern but communities, especially where alcohol is banned, must work to ensure home brewing of this type does not occur,” he said.

"The government is not seeking to place any restrictions on Vegemite or any other yeast product that may be used in home brew in remote communities.... Businesses in these communities also have a responsibility to report any purchase that may raise their own suspicions."

Vegemite, from the same family of spreads as Marmite, has been produced in Australia since 1923 and its advertising jingles have sometimes been said to be more widely known than the national anthem.

But the spread has been reportedly been linked to at least one death in 2010 involving excessive consumption of a Vegemite-based homebrew.

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, said he did not support a “Vegemite watch” and wanted to avoid excessive regulation of people’s lives.

“The last thing I want to do is have a Vegemite watch,” he said.

“Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches.”

Aboriginal health organisations and police representatives have warned that residents of dry communities have used Vegemite to make home-brew alcohol. Young children have reportedly been consuming home brew alcohol with orange juice and have been too hung over to attend school.

“In indigenous communities I have seen alcohol brewed from many things such as Vegemite,” Ian Leavers, from the police union, told the Courier-Mail newspaper.

“While we cannot just go out and ban everything that could possibly be used to make illegal alcohol, at the same time common sense needs to take place and if people are purchasing large quantities of an item that could be used for brewing illegal ­alcohol, questions should always be asked.”

Mr Scullion said he has begun consulting with community leaders and local stores about efforts to restrict sales of precursors to the production of alcohol.

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