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

19 November 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.

Scotland leading way in battle against alcohol abuse

Scotland is leading the UK in its approach to tackling the country’s chronic alcohol problems, a report by health experts has found.

MSPs should now be handed more powers over areas like marketing and advertising to ensure the country continues its pioneering approach. The Four Nations: How Evidence-based are Alcohol Policies and Programmes Across the UK? investigates the extent to which alcohol policies and programmes across the UK are based on evidence.

It says the arrival of an SNP Government in 2007 brought about a cultural change in the national attitude to alcohol abuse.

“The election of the Scottish National Party to power heralded the start of the shift to a whole population approach to alcohol which was subsequently adopted at least in part by Wales and Northern Ireland,” the report says.

“Scotland has greater autonomy and powers than the other areas, and has led the way on many of the most evidence-based measures.”

Scotland has invested “record amounts” in treatment services, the report states, increasing the proportion of people in treatment compared with England and Wales where there has not been the same injection of resources.

The ban on bulk-buy discounts is also cited in the report.

The SNP Government’s decision to introduce minimum alcohol pricing, currently subject to a European legal challenge by the drinks industry, is also hailed by the report which says the UK Government should also adopt this approach.

The Scottish Government should now switch its focus to tackling the marketing of alcohol, the report adds.

“This would be the obvious way for the Scottish Government to continue to lead on evidence-based alcohol policy, providing that they can persuade Westminster to devolve the relevant powers,” the report adds.

“Their stated position of banning television advertising before the 9pm watershed seems a good starting point; as does banning alcohol-related sports sponsorship.”

The Scottish Government’s public health minister Maureen Watt welcomed the report but stressed that an average of about 22 people a week still die because of alcohol.

“There can be no room for complacency,” she said.

“That is why we are working on the next phase of our alcohol strategy which will be ready in 2016.”

Ms Watt insisted that minimum pricing is a key part of the Government’s package of measures to tackle the availability of “cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities.”

“This report acknowledges that MUP, which is supported by Wales and Northern Ireland, could save thousands of lives and lead to substantial reductions in alcohol-related crime and absence from work,” she added.

But the “limited control” ministers have over marketing means this issue may have to be addressed at Westminster

“We pressing the UK Government to do more to protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising in all its forms and consider a wider review of alcohol advertising,” she added.

Source: The Scotsman, 13th November

MSPs urged to reject Labour's plans for tougher regulation of Buckfast

The Scottish Government has urged MSPs to reject a Labour proposal to tighten the laws on the sale and promotion of alcohol which would include tougher regulation of Buckfast.

Ministers have called on Holyrood's Health Committee to recommend that Labour MSP and former GP Dr Richard Simpson's Alcohol Bill should make no further progress in Parliament.

They argue that many of the provisions of the Bill - which include a minimum price on multipacks, regulation of alcoholic drinks containing caffeine, restrictions on alcohol advertising and drinking banning orders - are either unworkable, fall foul of UK and EU legislation or are better dealt with under existing legislation.

The proposed restriction on caffeinated drinks is designed to address a link between Buckfast and offending identified by the Scottish Prison Service.

Ministers say such a proposal, which appears focused "on only one product", could fall foul of EU regulations protecting the free movement of goods.

The Scottish Government is currently fighting an EU challenge against its own minimum unit pricing legislation after a European Court judge argued it could breach the same regulations.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt and Dr Simpson will appear before Holyrood's Health Committee on Tuesday to present their arguments.

In an advance submission, the Scottish Government said: "Although the Scottish Government welcomes the intent to address the issue of alcohol misuse, on balance we consider that some provisions are unnecessary at this time and significant detailed work is required to explore whether others could be made workable and proportionate.

"We believe that the issues it raises would be better addressed via the review of the Alcohol Framework.

"On this basis the Scottish Government does not support the Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill progressing to Stage 2."

Dr Simpson said some of the evidence that the committee has received so far has been "misleading or indeed incorrect".

Source: Herald Scotland, 9th November

Labour MSP to tackle Buckfast-fuelled 'wired-awake drunks'

Tougher regulation of caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Buckfast is necessary to tackle the problem of "wired-awake drunks", MSPs have been told.

Labour's Dr Richard Simpson defended his plans for tightening the law surrounding the sale and promotion of alcohol when he appeared before Holyrood's Health Committee.

The former GP's Alcohol Bill includes measures that would introduce a minimum price on multipacks, regulate alcoholic drinks containing caffeine, restrict alcohol advertising and bring in drinking banning orders.

The Scottish Government has said many of the provisions are unworkable, fall foul of UK and EU legislation or are better dealt with under existing legislation.

Ministers have recommended that the Bill should make no further progress in the Scottish Parliament.

The proposed limit on the volume of caffeine in alcoholic drinks is partly aimed at addressing a link between Buckfast and offending identified in a study for the Scottish Prison Service on young male offenders in Scotland.

It found 43.4% of those who admitted drinking before their last offence had consumed Buckfast tonic wine.

Dr Simpson said it is one example of evidence showing a "serious problem" with the drink in the west of Scotland, but he conceded further research may be needed.

He said: "Caffeine in the strength that is contained in these drinks is a stimulant, whereas alcohol itself is a depressant.

"If you add in caffeine in significant strength, drunk in significant quantities, then you produce wired-awake drunks who are actually likely to be more aggressive for longer and less in control of themselves.

"It is the combination of caffeine and alcohol that gives me the concern in terms of the criminality, based on the report in the young offenders unit, which showed the high numbers who drunk this particular substance and had got themselves into serious difficulties, enough to go to prison."

Ministers say the proposal could fall foul of EU regulations protecting the free movement of goods.

The Scottish Government is currently fighting an EU challenge against its own minimum unit pricing legislation after a European Court judge argued it could breach the same regulations.

Dr Simpson told the committee he had been "shocked" to see all 10 of his proposals rejected by the Government.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt, who also appeared before the committee, was criticised by some members for dismissing the Bill in its entirety.

Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said: "It just seems to me on principle very hard to understand why you would be opposed to everything in the Bill.

"I don't want to be unkind, but it almost seems... as if you've decided that you're opposed to the Bill and you're looking for lots of different reasons to justify that."

MSPs were told the Scottish Government is in the process of updating its alcohol framework, which sets out an action plan for tackling alcohol-related harm.

Ms Watt said: "We've looked at each and every aspect of the Bill... we're quite happy to look at anything from any quarter in terms of taking forward our alcohol framework.

"But in terms of the overall Bill, we don't feel that it's necessary at this time."

Carole Barker-Munro, head of the alcohol team at the Scottish Government, said: "We're at the early stages so for us this legislation possibly pre-empts some of the things that might come out of the alcohol framework and what we want to do is take a broader look across the piece about what might work."

Source: the Courier, 10th November


Tigher local alcohol licensing curbs linked to fewer drink-related hospital admissions

Annual admission rates 2% lower than expected in areas with more restrictive policies.

Tighter local alcohol licensing curbs are linked to fewer drink-related hospital admissions in these areas, reveals research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

In areas with the most restrictive licensing policies, annual drink-related admissions were 2% lower than would have been expected if no active policies had been in place, the findings show.

Alcohol misuse costs the NHS in England alone an estimated £3.5 billion every year. But that excludes the additional annual costs of drink-fuelled crime of £11 billion, and a further £7.3 billion in lost productivity.

The proportion of regular drinkers has fallen since 2005. But around a third of women and more than four out of 10 men exceed recommended weekly alcohol limits, while regular drinking is become more common among middle aged and older adults.

The researchers assessed the alcohol licensing policies and responses to alcohol licensing applications made to 326 local authorities (councils) between 2007-8 and 2011-12.

This research was funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR).

Source: NHS National Institute for Health Research, 11th November

On-pitch alcohol advertising to be banned under new law

On-pitch advertising for alcohol brands is to be banned as part of the Government’s upcoming Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, it was confirmed on Saturday.

It will prove the first concrete move taken by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar in a bid to reduce the profile of alcohol brands in major sporting events, and the bill is expected to make its way to Cabinet shortly following a series of delays.

The issue of alcohol advertising in sport has been a contentious one, with repeated suggestions from campaign groups that such a ban should be enacted in line with other European countries such as France and Norway.

Some will be unhappy that the proposed prohibition will not extend to pitchside or shirt advertisements, and will only apply to logos which are emblazoned on sports fields for televised matches.

That element of the bill will be introduced as part of a suite of measures that will see a broadcast watershed for television and radio advertising of alcohol products, labels warning of the adverse health effects of problem drinking on cans and bottles, and the long-expected imposition of minimum pricing for alcoholic beverages.

Speaking earlier this year, the minister was insistent that there was “no evidence” that a ban on sports sponsorship by drinks companies would help tackle excessive drinking among young people.

It is not known what prompted the policy shift prior to the bill’s publication later this year.

The Government has already engaged in an extended period of consultations with relevant stakeholders in the drinks industry, clinicians and groups who are calling for tougher measures to be introduced to combat binge-drinking and alcoholism.

Treatment for alcohol-related illnesses costs the State billions of euro according to latest statistics from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and alcohol is directly attributable for the deaths of over 1,000 people in Ireland every year.

Source: The Irish Times, 7th November

Alcohol related deaths in Glasgow fall to lowest level in decades

Alcohol related deaths in Glasgow have fallen to their lowest level in almost 20 years, figures show.

The city's annual progress report suggests inroads are being made in the battle against the most serious cases of alcohol abuse.

The latest figures show the rate of alcohol-related mortality has decreased by more than 5% across the city of Glasgow. There were 37 deaths per 100,000 population in 2013 compared with 39 the previous year - the lowest rate since the figures were first complied in 1997.

The figures also record a 14.6% drop in the rate of drug related deaths in Glasgow.

However, the number of people admitted to hospital for drug and alcohol related illness rose slightly.

The figures are contained in the annual report of the Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership and also show that an extra 5% of Naloxone kits were distributed to heroin addicts last year.

The drug is used to counteract the effects of an overdose. The report states that 5,933 were injecting heroin last year in Glasgow.

A total of 7,111 people were recorded as receiving Opiod replacement therapies including Methadone last year.

The partnership is made up NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Police Scotland, Sottish Fire and Rescue, Community Safety Glasgow and voluntary groups.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “It is a positive sign that there has been a decline in alcohol-related deaths in the city in recent years.

“Tackling the impact of alcohol misuse in Glasgow is an issue that we are fully focused upon and we are pleased that progress is being made.

“Alcohol does continue to exert a disproportionate effect on the city’s population.

“But we are working with partners to deliver a long term strategy that brings together an extensive range of support services and this will build upon the good work that’s already underway.”

An NHSGGC spokeswoman said: "These figures are to be welcomed and indicate that the work we are doing with our partners agencies is making a difference to lives.

"Addressing the harm caused by the misuse of alcohol and drugs is a major priority for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and while alcohol and drugs continues to have a devastating effect on the lives of Glasgow’s population our aim is to see further progress made over the coming years."

Source: Evening Times, 16th November

Drinks firms' efforts to fight alcohol abuse 'have not worked'

Reliance on voluntary action by alcohol firms to tackle drink-related harm has been a failure, a hard-hitting report warns. The “public health responsibility deal” unveiled during the last government has resulted in broken promises and too little being done to reduce problems such as underage drinking, the report concludes.

The scathing assessment by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) states: “[The responsibility deal] appears to have been the main element of the UK’s alcohol strategy in recent years and has been used by the industry to resist more effective policies. If this is the case, the responsibility deal has worsened the health of the nation, and so must be considered a failure.”

The break with decades of regulation began under then coalition health secretary Andrew Lansley in 2011. He hailed it as a groundbreaking public-private partnership that would reduce alcohol problems. But the IAS, a non-industry-funded thinktank, found that, under the deal, drinks producers have shunned policies that would work but would also hit their sales, promoted approaches that do not work, and exaggerated how much difference the policies they have adopted have actually made.

“The RD has systematically focused on relatively ineffective interventions that are unlikely to reduce alcohol consumption. It has set up its pledges in ambiguous terms that resist assessment,” says the report. “The alcohol industry has obstructed rigorous evaluation of the RD, through the unreliability of its progress reports, and more damningly through its misconduct in the official evaluation process.”

Katherine Brown, IAS director and one of the report’s authors, said that both hospital admissions and deaths due to alcohol had continued to rise, in spite of overall alcohol consumption falling slightly. “Perhaps most worryingly, the report indicates that the deal may have delayed evidence-based actions that would save lives and cut crime, such as minimum pricing. To call this a ‘public health responsibility deal’ for alcohol is laughable, as almost every independent public health body has boycotted it.”

The RD’s failure meant it would be “absurd for this government to continue with such a farcical initiative. With alcohol costing our society £21bn each year, we can’t afford to keep prioritising the needs of big business over public health,” she added.

The report claims there is no evidence that a key industry pledge – improving the labelling of cans and bottles to include drinking guidelines, warning labels and unit alcohol content – is working.

Recent Department of Health-funded research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that firms involved in the RD “are not fully meeting their commitments” on labelling, and that “labelling information frequently falls short of best practice, with fonts and logos smaller than would be accepted on other products with health effects”.

The report does praise drinks firms for agreeing to stop advertising within 100 metres of schools. It also hails genuine “progress” on the number of alcohol products carrying warnings about drinking during pregnancy, safe drinking guidelines and the number of units contained.

The Portman Group, an industry-funded body, criticised the report for “taking no account of official government data showing the achievements of the Responsibility Deal and repeating previous claims which we have already told the IAS are factually incorrect”.

“By working in partnership with government, drinks producers and retailers have taken 1.3 billion units of alcohol out of the market, limited the number of units of alcohol in single-serve cans, and voluntarily labelled 80% of products with important health information, and over 90% with a warning about drinking when pregnant,” a spokeswoman said.

Since 2010 there has been a 24% drop in alcohol-related violent incidents and 13% fall in the number of 11-13-year-olds who have ever had a drink, she added.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Under the Responsibility Deal we have seen over a billion units of alcohol removed from the market, through improving consumer choice of lower alcohol products, and nearly 93% of all alcohol products now carrying drinking in pregnancy warnings.

“More importantly, we have seen the number of people drinking above the current guidelines in England fall over recent years. However, we also recognise that more needs to be done, and we will continue to challenge industry to go further.”

Source: the Guardian, 7th November

Fife alcohol project aims to curb binge drinking

Parents are being targeted in a campaign to change Fife’s binge drinking culture.

Pupils from Auchmuty High School in Glenrothes have recorded a radio advert urging parents to talk about alcohol and the dangers of drinking too much.

The campaign coincides with Alcohol Awareness Week, which starts today.

Aileen Morris, who is leading the Thinking Differently alcohol project at Glenrothes YMCA, said parents were passing on unhealthy drinking habits to their children.

She said: “The binge drinking culture is not as cool or appealing to young people as it was.

“It’s the 30 to 50 age group who are drinking the most. Parents working nine to five maybe drink half a bottle of wine every second night.”

Ms Morris said teenagers aged 16 and younger were being given alcohol by their parents.

“There’s an element of it being left in an accessible place, but also some parents think it is acceptable to let their children drink.

“They know they are going to do it anyway, so think they might as well buy it for them.

“We’re trying to change that mindset and challenge it through young people.

“We know from things like tobacco, one of the biggest motivations for change is when children say ‘I wish you would stop smoking’.

“Young people have most sway with parents.

“We know that by age five children have formed beliefs about alcohol. A lot of data and evidence supports that.

“By the age of eight, children have quite a knowledge and awareness of alcohol.

“What we’re trying to do with the advert is encourage parents to have an open conversation with children, particularly teenagers.”

Jim Bett, service manager at Kirkcaldy-based Fife Alcohol Support Service, said the price of alcohol was a factor in problem drinking.

“The pricing of alcohol means that it is generally about 75% more affordable now than it was some 30 years ago, and this is undoubtedly a major factor in the social and family problems which are related to alcohol.”

Mr Bett said turning to alcohol to unwind after a stressful week could lead to problem drinking.

Source: The Courier, 16th November

Dial-a-drink services selling alcohol to underagers in Glasgow say police targetting illegal grade

Senior officers believe social media is being used to push alcohol - including Buckfast, Mad Dog 20/20, Dragon Soup, vodka and cider - to youngsters.

It is also an offence in Scotland to deliver alcohol between midnight and 6am.

Superintendent Thom McLoughlin today warned anyone caught flouting the law would be prosecuted.

"We are aware of alcohol delivery services who deliver to underage children,” he told the Evening Times.

"The people behind these websites don't care about who they are selling to, all they care about it profit."

The 36-year-old man and 37-year-old woman were arrested last month after cops swooped on their home in east end of the city. They were released on an undertaking and are due to appear in court at a later date.

It is the first time UK police have accused anyone of illegally selling alcohol throughout the night.

Source: the Daily Record, 6th November

Estonian PM: high price is best alcohol policy

According to Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas the best way to fight against the overconsumption of alcohol is to implement a high alcohol excise duty and therefore raise the price of alcohol, and another thing that helps is the sector's self-regulation, informs BNS/LETA.

The consumption and overconsumption of alcohol is a touchy subject in the society, Roivas said in an answer to the Estonian Employers' Confederation and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "As a former minister of social affairs I know that according to studies the most effective measure for fighting against the overconsumption of alcohol is the price, which the state can regulate through excise policy," he said.

Roivas stressed that the governments he has headed have raised the excise duty and affirmed that it also plans to do it in the coming years. "When implementing other restrictions their impact has to be analyzed very carefully and it has to be made sure that a public ban would really have the desired result," he added.

According to Roivas the danger of overimposing restrictions is big. He added that the sector's self-regulation should be implemented more than before.

Roivas said that he considers imperative that important decisions are made involving different sides and added that business organizations are important partners in that. He expressed hope that everyone can learn from each other's mistakes and delicate subjects can be discussed constructively.

Estonia's Minister of Health and Labor Jevgeni Ossinovski has decided to substantially curb alcohol advertising and is seeking opinions on a bill that would among other things ban audio and visual design elements in such commercials, allowing only a single-color static image to be shown, and happy hours in establishments where alcohol is served.

The bill would ban outdoor advertisement of alcohol and require larger stores to designate special areas separated from the rest of the premises with non-transparent walls for the sale of alcohol by 2018.

According to the Estonian Traders Association reducing alcohol consumption is important and reasonable measures must be implemented to achieve that, but the package of measures proposed by Ossinovski will not reduce access to alcohol and therefore solve the real problem.

Source: The Baltic Course, 17th November

Gene mutation linked to impulsive behaviour with alcohol, study finds

A genetic mutation that makes people more impulsive when they consume alcohol may explain why some are more prone to drink driving, impulsive sex and random acts of violence.

The mutation disrupts a gene called HTR2B which the body uses to make serotonin receptors in parts of the brain that have a governing role in decision making and self-control.

The genetic glitch has only been found in Finland so far, where 2.2% of the genetically isolated population carry the mutation, amounting to more than 100,000 people.

A study in 2010 was the first to identify the mutation in Finns, though many of the subjects who donated DNA were violent offenders with alcohol problems and personality disorders, making it hard to assess its effects in the general population.

Roope Tikkanen, a psychiatrist at the University of Helsinki, gathered information on impulsive behaviour from a small group of 14 people who carried the mutation and 156 controls who did not. None were violent offenders. He found that when compared to controls, the carriers had more aggressive outbursts, got into fights, and behaved in a more impulsive manner when under the influence of alcohol.

The carriers were not alcoholics as measured by their consumption, but had a tendency to lose control when they had a few drinks, he writes in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

“We wanted to take a look at healthy people in the general population to check if this mutation had any effects. The most interesting finding was that it caused impulsive behaviour while under intoxication, and that included impulsive sex, impulsively spending money, and driving under the influence,” Tikkanen told the Guardian.

“When they are sober they have a tendency towards impulsivity, but our discovery is that it will be enhanced by small amounts of alcohol,” he said.

The study is too small to draw firm conclusions, and many of the people who took part were relatives of offenders who took part in the 2010 study, meaning their impulsive behaviour may be partly a product of the shared environment they grew up in. But if larger studies confirm the genetic link, Tikkanen said doctors in Finland may consider screening for the mutation to identify those at risk of impulsive acts that could land them in prison.

People who carry the mutation could be recommended to attend courses to help them keep their alcohol consumption within healthy limits, and have therapy to boost their self control, he said.

It is unclear how the mutation affects impulsive behaviour and why alcohol may exacerbate its effects. But further work on the mutation may go beyond elucidating the biological drivers of reckless behaviour and shed light on mental disorders driven by serotonin imbalances.

“The interesting thing about this is that it tells us something about the mechanism of the serotonin receptor globally. It’s like a laboratory experiment that you can’t usually do in humans,” Tikkanen said.

Source: the Guardian, 17th November

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