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

26 May 2016


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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.

Supermarkets blamed for rise in Scots alcohol consumption

SUPERMARKETS are being blamed for a surge in alcohol consumption, with off-sales doing their best business in 
20 years.

Drinking levels in Scotland have been in decline since 2007, but the trend has reversed owing to an upturn in the economy coupled with supermarket sales of cheaper alcohol.

About 10.8 litres of pure alcohol was sold per adult last year – the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka, 116 bottles of wine or 477 pints of beer for every drinker in Scotland or 20.8 units a week.

Alcohol sales are 20 per cent higher than in England and Wales.

Research by NHS Health Scotland says three-quarters of all drink sold in Scotland was through supermarkets and off-licences – the highest market share since recording began in 1994.

Legislation to introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit in Scotland has been delayed following a legal challenge by the Scottish Whisky Association to the European Court of Justice.

Public health experts argue the latest figures on alcohol sales strengthen the case for minimum pricing on alcoholic drinks.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the appetite for domestic drink was being fuelled by “really low prices” and promotions “encouraging us to consume more”.

She said: “Scotland is now a nation of home drinkers, with more alcohol sold through supermarkets and off-licences than ever before.

“The more affordable alcohol is the more we drink. This means more alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime and deaths. Politicians across the Scottish Parliament understood this evidence when they passed minimum unit pricing legislation four years ago.”

And Ms Douglas said it was “disappointing” a “life-saving measure” to cut drinking was held up by the courts.

“[The Scottish Whisky Association’s] defence of cheap vodka and cider is somewhat at odds with the ‘iconic’ image of Scotch. Like the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry is placing profits before people’s health.”

Sales of spirits increased for the first time in six years, while the purchase of wine is at the highest levels for 20 years. More than half of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences was sold at less than 50p per unit.

Levels of public alcohol consumption had fallen to about 10.6 litres or lower in recent years, but Professor Linda Bauld, a public health expert specialising in cancer and based at Stirling University, said a higher rate of disposable income and an improving economy was boosting drinking levels.

“Buying alcohol in Scottish retail outlets, particularly supermarkets, has become more affordable due to the freeze on duty on spirits and beer in the context of improved household incomes. This may in part explain increased consumption, and underlines the need for minimum unit pricing that targets the cheapest products consumed by heavier drinkers.

“Action on price is important because seven types of cancer are linked to drinking too much alcohol.”

Professor Petra Meier, one of a Sheffield University team that carried out research into minimum pricing in Scotland, said the trend reversal in drinking levels was the result of alcohol becoming more affordable.

Ms Meier’s research found minimum pricing would effectively target high-risk drinkers without affecting people on low incomes who drink in moderation.

It found a minimum price would reduce deaths and hospital admissions among high-risk drinkers who purchase large quantities of low-cost alcohol.

The new research found that of the alcohol sold in Scotland in shops, more than half (51 per cent) was sold at less than 50p per unit, the minimum unit price sought by the Scottish Government.

Two thirds of the higher alcohol sales in Scotland was sold through off-sales.

Dr Mark Robinson, senior public health information manager at NHS Health Scotland, said: “Higher levels of alcohol consumption result in higher levels of alcohol-related harm and these present a substantial public health and economic cost to Scotland. Policies that reduce the availability of low priced, high-strength alcohol are the most effective for reducing alcohol-related harms and narrowing health inequalities.”

Source: Herald Scotland, 25th May


Alison Douglas: Give children a sporting chance on alcohol

SPONSORSHIP is as unsuitable for drink as it is for tobacco, writes Alison Douglas

The appeal of sports sponsorship to children and young people is obvious and long-lasting – nearly 40 years on I can still remember how much I coveted the John Player Special Formula One matchbox car my friend Colin had. Tobacco sports sponsorship was banned in 2005 and it would now be considered outrageous for high-profile teams like Celtic to be brand ambassadors for tobacco – so why is it acceptable for alcohol?

Major alcohol brands are prominent in almost every high profile sporting event today, from the Olympics to the Champions League, Ryder Cup, Formula One and Wimbledon.

The Celtic football team advertise Magners cider on their shirts, while the Scottish Football Association has a seven figure ‘official beer partner’ sponsorship deal with Tennent’s. Scottish Rugby has several alcohol deals which means the brands Guinness, Crabbies and Caledonia Best are all over Murrayfield.

Why do companies spend over £300 million on sponsoring sports in the UK? It’s not for love of the game, or a genuine wish to support grassroots development. It’s a business tactic to increase brand awareness and boost sales and profits – and it works. Alcohol companies are eager to align themselves with the positive, healthy image of sport and gain access to new customers. Advertising agencies, media buyers and broadcasters also do very well from these tie-ups.

The simple truth is that alcohol and sport don’t mix. New guidelines issued by the UK Chief Medical Officers recommend not drinking alcohol at all before, during or directly after active physical sport. Many top athletes and sports stars are teetotal, recognising the impact that alcohol can have on their training regime, fitness and performance.

Yet alcohol brands are allowed to dominate sporting events that attract significant numbers of children as well as adults. Sports sponsorship enables companies to establish a link between their brand and our sporting heroes at a deep, emotional level.

It provides companies with direct and regular access to impressionable young people who are most susceptible to positive, risk-free messaging about alcohol and to the effects of alcohol itself.

There is strong evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing leads young people to drink at an earlier age, and to drink more.

Over two-thirds of people in Scotland agree that children are getting the message that drinking alcohol is a normal part of enjoying sports events.

Scottish Women’s Football showed fantastic leadership when they decided not to accept sponsorship from companies in the alcohol or gambling industries because “we want women’s football to be a clean sport, and one which helps to educate young girls. There are huge problems, in the west of Scotland especially, with gambling and alcoholism…it would be absolutely crazy to allow little girls and women to be running around in strips endorsing these sectors.” Unfortunately others have been slow to follow.

That’s why Alcohol Focus Scotland, along with BMA (Scotland), Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, is asking politicians to sign our pledge: “I believe that alcohol marketing has no place in childhood.”

We think children have the right to play, learn and socialise in places that are free from alcohol marketing, and we have received support from all of the political parties.

The Scottish Parliament has the power to restrict alcohol sponsorship of events in Scotland, and 70 per cent of Scots support this. It’s true that removing alcohol sponsorship from sport won’t break the link completely as television is the most common medium for watching sport and broadcast advertising is reserved to Westminster.

However, Scotland has taken the lead in other public health initiatives which England then followed and we can do the same again.

Alison Douglas is Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland.

Source: The Scotsman, 23rd May


Justice Minister: Alcohol ban to stay after cup final violence

Justice secretary Michael Matheson has said events at the Scottish Cup final on Saturday "underline" the need to to keep the ban on alcohol at football grounds.

His comments came after Police Scotland revealed they arrested 14 people in and around Hampden on the day of the match.

Fighting broke out after Hibernian's 3-2 victory over Rangers, with thousands of fans invading the pitch.

Mr Matheson said: "I think if anybody thought that reintroducing alcohol into Scottish football was a good idea, events of Saturday, I believe, just underline that it was not and I'm pleased that we stood our ground on that particular issue and opposed those parties in the Scottish Parliament who sought to try to change the legislation to allow alcohol to be reintroduced to grounds."

The ban on alcohol in football grounds was introduced after violence at the 1980 Scottish Cup final and has been in place ever since.

Police Scotland said three men, aged 18, 19 and 23, were arrested for allegedly breaching the Offensive Behaviour at Football Scotland Act due to a pitch invasion.

Another three men, aged aged 17, 18 and 22, were arrested for alleged disorder outside the stadium, while a 44-year-old man was arrested for allegedly trying to enter the stadium while drunk.

A 35-year-old man was arrested and detained by the police for attempting to enter the stadium while drunk and while having a football banning order in place. A 49-year-old man was reported to the procurator fiscal over an alleged assault.

Three men, two aged 28 and one aged 49, were reported to the procurator fiscal for alleged street drinking.

A 29-year-old man was reported for alleged drug offences while a 58-year-old man was reported to the for alleged street trading offences.

Glasgow Shettleston SNP MSP John Mason earlier said the disorder at the final show now is not "an appropriate time" to scrap the Offensive behaviour Act

He has lodged a motion before the Scottish Parliament which states the "scenes" after the cup final show the need to keep the both the act and the ban on the consumption of alcohol at football grounds in place.

Source: STV News, 24th May


Alcohol exposure during adolescence leads to chronic stress vulnerability

Drinking during early to mid-adolescence can lead to vulnerability to chronic stress, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

A research team led by Linda Spear, distinguished professor of psychology at Binghamton University, gave alcohol to rats every other day, starting from early to mid-adolescence. When the team looked at the same rats in adulthood, they found that adult males didn't show hormonal stress adaptation, making them more vulnerable to chronic stress.

"Stress hormones are released when you get anxious or are in a stressful circumstance," said Spear. "The classic stress hormone is cortisol in humans; it's corticosterone in rats. When you expose the animals to a stressor, the first time they show a large hormone stress response. However, this hormonal response normally adapts over time, such that less hormone is released following repeated exposure to a relatively mild stressor. And that's important, because cortisol or corticosterone helps you respond to an emergency. But it's bad to have elevated levels in the long term, because sustained elevations in these levels of these hormones have adverse effects on a lot of body systems. So cortisol is needed for emergencies, but you don't want it elevated all the time. And what we found is that following adolescent alcohol exposure, adults don't show that hormonal stress adaptation. They don't adapt to the chronic stressor, which suggests that they may be more vulnerable later to chronic stress."

Spear's work is a part of a national consortium, funded by the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse, that's examining, using animal models, the effects of alcohol exposure during adolescence.

"I think what these studies are showing is that there are long-lasting effects from adolescent alcohol exposure, and it is not innocuous. And these effects are most dramatic with exposures during mid- and early adolescence, which is the time when alcohol use is typically initiated in humans. So now we're trying to understand the neural mechanisms that underlie these effects, and ways to prevent or reverse consequences of adolescent alcohol exposure," said Spear.

Source: Science Daily, 24th May

Alcohol weakens pancreas' ability to absorb vitamin C

Regular drinking can weaken the pancreas's ability to absorb vitamin C, potentially predisposing the body to pancreatitis and other pancreatic diseases, says a new study.

The pancreas produces the enzymes used to digest food and the hormones, such as insulin, that are needed to store energy from food.

Pancreatic diseases and damage to the pancreas can lead to digestive problems, malnutrition and diabetes.

Reducing the levels of vitamin C and other essential micronutrients will interfere with normal cellular activities in the pancreas, said lead researcher Hamid Said from University of California, Irvine in the US,

"This may sensitize the pancreas to a secondary insult, predisposing it to the development of pancreatitis and other pancreatic diseases," Said explained.

The findings appeared in the American Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology reports.

To function properly, pancreatic cells require a number of vitamins, which they take from the blood stream.

In this study, the research team investigated whether alcohol exposure interfered with the pancreas's absorption of vitamin C.

The research team first identified the protein called sodium-dependent vitamin C transporter 2 (SVCT-2) as the main protein responsible for transporting vitamin C into pancreatic cells.

Next, the researchers exposed mouse pancreatic cells to alcohol levels similar to the blood alcohol concentration of chronic alcoholics.

The researchers also fed mice a diet in which alcohol made up 25 percent of the total calories consumed.

They found that both pancreatic cells directly exposed to alcohol and pancreatic cells from alcohol-fed mice had lower numbers of SVCT-2, blocking the cells' absorption of vitamin C.


Source: ET Healthworld, 14th May

Doctors pour scorn on Government's alcohol advice

DOCTORS are at odds with the UK’s Chief Medical Officers over the amount of alcohol it is safe to drink, a new poll of GPs has revealed.

According to the survey of 1006 doctors, almost two thirds (60 per cent) of them disagree with the CMOs’ statement that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and many believe that alcohol can form part of a healthy lifestyle.

The revelation comes after the CMOs’ new guidelines on alcohol suggested that due to the risk of developing certain cancers there was no level of regular drinking that can be considered as completely safe.

The study of GPs from across the UK was conducted on behalf of Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale by pollsters medeConnect.

It found that 60 per cent strongly or somewhat disagreed with the sentiment that there was no safe level of alcohol consumption, while 30 per cent agreed. It also showed that 63 per cent strongly or somewhat agreed that moderate alcohol consumption could be part of a healthy lifestyle.

According to Camra, scientific studies have shown that moderate drinking can have a protective effect against various health problems including cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and certain forms of cancer.

Camra’s national chairman, Colin Valentine said: “We made the observation when the new guidelines were published that the Chief Medical Officers had ignored evidence which showed that moderate drinking can have a beneficial effect.

“Only recently, we commissioned a report from Oxford University ‘Friends on Tap’ which found that those who had frequented a local pub were happier, healthier and felt more integrated in their communities than those without.

“Furthermore, research has shown that the mortality rate of moderate drinkers is lower than those who abstain altogether.

“It therefore is no surprise that this survey has illustrated that GPs overwhelmingly believe that a moderate consumption of alcohol can be part of a good and healthy lifestyle.”

The new alcohol guidance published by the CMOs also lowered the recommended consumption levels for men 14 units per week, bringing it in line with the recommended amount for women.

Source: Edinburgh Evening News, 24th May


Why alcohol makes you feel warm and other strange effects it has on your brain

Alcohol: why do we drink it? People have been consuming alcohol for at least 10,000 years. And when drinking water was rather risky, alcohol seemed a much safer bet. Amaldus of Villanova, a 14th-century monk, even wrote that alcohol “prolongs life, clears away ill humors, revives the heart and maintains youth”.

Today people will give you many reasons for their decision to drink and most of these reflect the effects it has on mind and brain. But before you get too sozzled, one thing is for sure: it is certainly not a safer, healthier bet than water.

1. It tastes nice

It depends on what you are drinking (some drinks like alcopops contain more sugar) and people obviously have different taste preferences. The fact that ethanol is created from sugars is also likely to increase our propensity to drink. For example, research suggests that some individuals have a predisposition to prefer sugar and this can make them more prone to developing alcohol addiction. Alcohol also seems to act on some of the same brain areas activated by sweet tastes.

Yet ethanol is not always perceived as pleasant; it can be quite bitter. If ethanol is given over time rats show increasing “tasty” responses in their mouth and facial expressions. However, if it’s given after naltrexone, a substance that reduces opioid activity – which signals “liking” something among other things – in the brain, “aversive” reactions increase, and less alcohol is consumed. This suggests that the opioid receptors mediate how much we like alcohol. And substances like naltrexone are used to treat people with alcohol use disorder.

2. I really want a drink

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in controlling reward and pleasure in the brain, plays a key role in motivated behaviour and is also associated with many forms of addiction. Ethanol, like all other known addictive substances, increases the release of dopamine. This can cause you to drink more – why you might want a second, or a third drink, after the first one.

However, after repeated experience with addictive substances like alcohol, dopamine connections can remodel themselves, sometimes decreasing the numbers of receptors that bind dopamine. The size of this reduction is associated with a higher risk of relapse in alcohol addiction.

3. It makes me feel better

Drinking alcohol can be a form of “self-medication” used to unwind from workplace stress or ease study pressures, making it less “aqua vitae” (water of life) and more and “Aqua ad vitae” (water to counteract life). And more than 2,600 years ago the Greek poet Alceus suggested that “we must not let our spirits give way to grief … Best of all defences is to mix plenty of wine and drink it”.

Stress is biologically mediated by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis – a feedback system between the brain and the pituitary and adrenal glands. But acute alcohol consumption can stimulate this, increasing the production of several stress hormones including corticosterone and corticotropin. But the “stress” response also interacts with the reward effects from the dopamine system, so it may very well feel good.

4. It helps me overcome my inhibitions

Alcohol is known to reduce inhibitory control in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain associated with decision-making and social behaviour – coming more under the control of mid-brain dopamine neurons. This leads to the loss of self-restraint that people report when drinking.

One noticeable effect – after just a few drinks – is an increase in sociability. But the loss of inhibition probably also underlies risk taking behaviour while under the influence and goes some way towards explaining the association between drinking and accidents and injuries.

5. It helps me sleep

Despite the fact that we may opt to partake in a night cap, research shows that certain doses of alcohol may reduce the amount of slow wave and REM sleep we have. So it may help us to drop off faster, but alcohol doesn’t result in a better quality of sleep. REM sleep is important for cognitive processes such as memory consolidation so reducing the time in which this process occurs has a detrimental effect on memory. Consolidation of emotional memories may be particularly affected.

It is also known that alcohol acts on the process of long-term potentiation – the way in which neurons remodel the connections between them after learning. So alterations in both REM and slow wave sleep after drinking may potentially disrupt the brain’s memory processes.

6. It eases my pain

This known effect has been used to support alcohol’s consumption throughout history: consume it and you can successfully dull your perception of pain. Pain-causing signals are detected by sensory neurons (or nociceptors) that pass this information through chemicals such as glutamate, via synapses in the spinal cord, up into the brain. But this ascending signal can be “dampened down” by alcohol, which is how it achieves some of its pain-dulling effects.

Unfortunately, research suggests that this pain dampening effect is highly variable. And while some people do consume alcohol to help relieve chronic pain, it is possible for tolerance to occur such that pain relief lessens over time. Enhanced pain sensitivity may even happen in chronic drinkers.

7. A drink will warm me up

Not quite. While alcohol can make you feel warm temporarily this is a perception generated by heat sensitive neurons (thermoreceptors) located in your skin that detect a rise in your skin temperature from an increase in blood flow in the vessels close to the skin’s surface. In fact, alcohol actually lowers your core body temperature because the rush of blood to the skin’s surface is a means of body cooling.

So while you may feel warm on the outside, you are getting cold on the inside. Alcohol consumption has also been shown to reduce the perception of cold air temperatures but it is thought that this effect may not come from changes in the dilation of blood vessels but may originate in the brain itself.

All in all, alcohol has multiple effects on your mind and brain. If you do decide to have a drink, for whatever reason, do so knowledgeably.

Source: The Conversation, 25th May


Whisky industry calls for 'balanced approach' to taxation

Scotch Whisky Association has called for Scottish Government to use its newly devolved tax powers to ensure Scotland's tax regime is “at least as competitive as the rest of the UK”.

Industry trade body the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has called for Scottish Government to use its newly devolved tax powers to ensure Scotland's tax regime is “at least as competitive as the rest of the UK”.

The SWA's chief executive David Frost told members at its annual gathering in Edinburgh today the current slowdown in Scottish economic indicators “is troubling”.

He called on the Scottish Government to “set an explicit policy goal” to ensure Scotland is on a par or at a competitive advantage against the rest of the UK to stimulate growth and protect the whisky industry.

“This must include a balanced approach to taxation and sustained investment in infrastructure and connectivity,” Frost said.

Adding: “We also need the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to foster a dynamic and competitive business environment in Scotland.”

Frost said the industry also needs improvements in transport and digital infrastructure whilst also urging the Scottish Government to use its new revenue-raising powers “with caution”.

Frost also said he is also confident of victory in the SWA's court battle against the SNP's minimum unit pricing plan.

He attacked the UK Government's “inconsistent” alcohol policy, promoting exports in one department but recommending total abstinence based on “not a lot of evidence” in another.

He said: “Of course, our case on minimum unit pricing is still out there. But we are nearly there.

“The European Court ruled substantially in our favour in December.

“The Scottish courts now have to produce a final ruling in the light of the European Court's view. We are confident in our arguments and expect a ruling this autumn.

“But there's always something new on the horizon.

"We were all surprised by some aspects of the new guidelines produced by the chief medical officers in January.

“The introduction of the same limit, and a very low one, for men and women is highly unusual internationally.

“There is not a lot of evidence for the suggestion that there is no safe level of drinking.

“I hope the Government will take a careful look at the inconsistency between one part of it promoting UK food and drink exports, a quarter of which is Scotch Whisky, whilst another is saying it is unsafe to drink anything.”

Scotland Office Minister Andrew Dunlop said: “The UK Government is doing all it can to support the industry, including by freezing duty and protecting the Scotch Whisky geographical indication.”

Source: Daily Record, 23rd May
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