A new set of best practice guidelines for drinks retailers - Responsible Retailing of Alcohol: Guidance for the Off-Trade - is launched today by a group of trade associations representing the off-trade drinks industry. It is the first major initiative by the off-trade to tackle alcohol misuse following the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England, published by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit in March 2004.

The announcement comes days before Home Secretary David Blunkett is due to launch (on 28 June) an alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, which will crack down on illegal and irresponsible selling and consumption of alcohol, including underage purchases. The drinks industry has long supported the introduction of compulsory ID cards, but in the meantime, the guidance will offer retailers practical advice on tackling the issue, such as requesting proof of age from anyone who looks under 21.

Written by the Wine and Spirit Association (WSA), the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the guidance provides all off-trade retailers of alcohol, from corner shops to supermarkets, with a guide to selling responsibly in order to reduce misuse of alcohol and to minimise anti-social behaviour outside off-licences.

The document covers the prevention of underage purchases, in-store promotions and advertising, siting of alcohol fixtures, and staff training.  It also gives a summary of the new Licensing Act, the British Code of Advertising and the Portman Group Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks.

Members of the three associations have been widely consulted, with input received from major supermarkets and high street chains.  The document has also been previewed by the All-Party Parliamentary Wine & Spirit Group, made up of over 200 MPs and Peers.

Commenting on the launch, Licensing Minister Richard Caborn said: "The grant of a licence to sell alcohol both now and in the future places a positive duty on the holder to act at all times in a socially responsible way.  We want to work in partnership with the industry to take forward important initiatives to reduce alcohol misuse and irresponsible retailing by the few. The off-trade's new guidance represents real commitment from the industry to promote corporate and social responsibility, and it has my full support."

WSA director Quentin Rappoport said: "We have been working behind the scenes for some time to develop strategies to combat alcohol harm, and the guidance is the first significant fruit of our labours.  It has been well-received by policymakers and the drinks industry as a whole, and we will together ensure that it is widely distributed to retailers of all sizes."

ACS chief executive, David Rae, added: "The off-trade is determined to play its part in tackling the problem of alcohol misuse, and retailers are often at the front line when dealing with attempted underage purchases or drinkers congregating outside stores.  The guidance offers practical tips and tried-and-tested procedures which retailers of all sizes can implement easily."
Dr Kevin Hawkins, director general of the BRC, concluded: "We welcome the forthcoming enforcement campaign as, together with our initiative, it should help us to identify the 'bad apples' who sell alcohol irresponsibly, whilst giving responsible store staff the tools they need to encourage sensible drinking."

Copies of the guidance can be downloaded from the WSA website: www.wsa.org.uk