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COMMENT: The friendly face of alcohol regulation

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In response to a government interim report on alcohol harm reduction, the WSA has released its own recommendations. Unsurprisingly, it argues against the more drastic actions the government proposes. However, the WSA's less costly suggestions are nothing new. They require little effort on the part of the industry and it is likely that they will also have little effect.

In a move that should surprise no-one, the Wine and Spirit Association has, in response to the government strategic unit's interim report on alcohol harm reduction, dismissed any suggestion that alcohol advertising should be banned. However, the body was able to cite some good reasons why a ban would be ineffective.

The WSA pointed out that the French attempt to control alcohol consumption by banning alcohol advertising has failed to produce results: alcohol consumption has not fallen since the ban was in place. The association can also point to the mixed fortunes of different drinks markets: beer and spirits, which are heavily marketed and advertised, are seeing declining sales. Sales of wine, which sees comparatively little advertising, are growing rapidly.

The association also highlighted the dangers of taxing alcohol too highly; too high a tax could encourage the smuggling of cheap alcohol. According to the association, this alcohol will inevitably find its way to under-age drinkers.

However, rather than just point out the flaws in the government's reasoning, the WSA has produced its own plan for how the drinks industry and the government can work together to change the country's drinking culture. The WSA wants to create a more Mediterranean approach to drinking; one where people enjoy moderate but regular consumption and public drunkenness is frowned upon.

Other recommendations that the WSA has put to the government include the introduction of a national identity card scheme, actively promoting sensible drinking (following on from anti-drink driving adverts), and the voluntary labeling of drinks with their alcohol content in units. These suggestions are not terribly new and have been heard before. They may help to reduce alcohol consumption but their major advantage as far as drinks industry players are concerned is that their implementation requires very little effort or expenditure.


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