Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Minister Seeks Control of Alcohol Licensing in Wales

BBC News

Wales could gain control over minimum pricing of alcohol, advertising and licensing hours

Ministers in Wales could take charge of rules surrounding alcohol sales, including minimum price, licensing hours and advertising.

The Welsh Assembly Government has confirmed that Health Minister Edwina Hart wants to "take control and take action" over alcohol.

She will ask cabinet colleagues to request that the Licensing Act 2003 is devolved in Wales by the UK government.

The SNP, which wants similar powers in Scotland, has welcomed the move.

Mrs Hart has previously indicated that she would seek powers to act over alcohol if the UK government did not do the same soon.

According to a report by Public Health Wales, alcohol has a "substantial impact on health" in Wales.

The report said there was "particular concern" about drinking among young people and children, with 23% of boys and 20% of girls drinking at least once a week.

It also found that 4.3% of all male deaths in Wales were "alcohol-attributable".

An assembly government spokesperson said: "While we are investing in education and prevention, the main levers to tackle binge drinking and alcohol misuse remain with the UK government through the power to legislate on price, licensing and advertising.

"Health Minister Edwina Hart welcomes the UK government's indication that it is going to take action on these issues, but believes it is now time for Wales to take control and take action in this area.

"She has therefore written to cabinet colleagues seeking their agreement to request the devolution of powers in the Licensing Act 2003 to regulate the sale of alcohol.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further until the cabinet has made a decision."

Earlier this week, Prime Minister David Cameron backed a crackdown on the sale of alcohol at "below-cost" prices, and supported proposals by 10 councils in Greater Manchester for minimum prices, with each unit costing at least 50p.
Low-income families

Both the House of Commons health select committee and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence support minimum pricing.

But UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has voiced doubts on the grounds that it punishes low-income families.

The Department of Health said the government was committed to taking tough action over problem drinking but said demand and attitudes were also crucial factors, in addition to supply and price.

In June the Conservatives and Labour joined forces in the Scottish Parliament to back an amendment calling for minimum pricing plans to be struck from the SNP's Alcohol Bill.

Opponents of minimum pricing in Scotland disputed claims there was "overwhelming evidence" in favour, and said the case had not been made.

SNP MSP Michael Matheson, a member of the Scottish Parliament's health committee, said: "The coalition in favour of minimum pricing as an effective approach to tackling the worst damage done by alcohol abuse is growing by the day.

"The Welsh Assembly Government joins a chorus of expert voices in health, public order and the licensed trade who believe that the selling of alcohol at rock-bottom prices is one of the biggest problems facing our society and that we have to take action to stop it now."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sides Disagree on 21-only's Health Effects


University of Iowa student and 21-only opponent Matt Pfaltzgraf admits that binge drinking is a problem in Iowa City.

However, Pfaltzgraf said he thinks supporters of the 21-only ordinance are missing the mark in their belief that kicking underage patrons out of bars will prevent them from binge drinking.

"The whole notion that the first time students have a drink (is) at night when they go to a bar is just insane," Pfaltzgraf said. "What students do is pregame. They preload. They're binge drinking before they even leave their house."

The most dangerous drinking in town doesn't occur in downtown bars, but at house parties, fraternity and sorority houses and tailgates outside of University of Iowa football games, Pfaltzgraf said.

He cites reported incidents to back up his belief, as well. In November, Drake University student Nathan Erickson reportedly ingested a large amount of Everclear as part of a fraternity hazing. His blood-alcohol content at the hospital registered nearly .50, or more than six times the legal limit to operate a vehicle, .08. He was 19 at the time and made a full recovery.

In September 1995, UI student Matthew Garofalo passed out drunk at a fraternity house and was found dead 12 hours later after his lungs filled with his own vomit.

"You have the largest research institution in the state of Iowa and they cannot provide any data these (underage) students are binge drinking downtown, that that's where they're getting their alcohol," Pfaltzgraf said.

Nonetheless, supporters of the 21-only ordinance insist that keeping underage students out of the bars will make it more difficult for them to get booze, which, in turn, will lower their opportunities to engage in risky behavior.

Rick Dobyns, a clinical professor of family medicine at UI and 21 Makes Sense member, said the 21-only ordinance is good public health practice.

"It just makes it harder (to obtain alcohol)," Dobyns said of the ordinance. "Of course, will they go elsewhere to drink? Sure. It just makes it harder."

Dobyns said many people, even those who are 19 or 20, could drink and not have any problems. However, there are no tests to see who will succumb to alcohol-related issues, such as alcoholism, and who won't.

"We apply a rule to everybody to help a few," Dobyns said.

A former Johnson County paramedic sees it differently.

Ryan From, who worked with the Johnson County Ambulance Service for eight years, said the downtown bars are getting a bad rap for behavior that is taking place outside of the pedestrian mall.

"Most intoxicated patients came from unsupervised house parties, apartments and unlicensed venues -- hands down," From said.

"The thing is, a lot of times at house parties, people are afraid to call. That's when people get hurt and people die. It's in the bars' best interest to have that person leave or leave with medical attention."
Health concerns

Regardless of where they are finding it, experts agree dangerous drinking is especially detrimental for young imbibers, especially those younger than 25.

"Their brain is still developing," said Stephanie Beecher, a health educator for UI Student Health Service. "In this critical time of development, the brain is still maturing, still developing judgment skills."

Alcohol abuse for underage drinkers can have both short- and long-term effects, Beecher said. In the short term, alcohol abuse can lead to making poor or risky choices, as indicated by a rise in acts of violence and sexually transmitted infections, Beecher said. As for long-term effects, people can develop alcoholism and other health problems.

Although his office won't advocate one way or another on the 21-only ordinance, Johnson County Public Health Director Doug Beardsley said a law preventing underage patrons from entering bars is sound public policy and will go a long way to address alcohol addiction treatment and public perception of what is acceptable behavior.

Good policy or not, however, Beardsley said the ordinance won't do much on its own and must be part of a greater effort.

"I don't have the expectation this is the be all, end all, but it's an essential part," Beardsley said, noting the importance of offering alcohol-free alternatives. "Without changing the policy of allowing underage persons into drinking establishments, none of those (alternatives) are going to go very far."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Binge-Drinking is as British as Rain

Telegraph UK

Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), made headlines with his remarks to John Humphrys this week about the difficulties police face against "binge-drinking culture". Humphrys was looking for answers, but the ACPO chief provided none, only more questions: "Why is it we've got ourselves into the position where lager is sold cheaper than water? Why is it we've got huge entertainments and drinks companies marketing alcohol to children? Why is it we continue to see products developed that are solely targeted at young people?"

Why indeed? Or, on the other hand, why not? It's a free country (or free-ish), even for marketeers, lager manufacturers and off-licensees. If you make it, people will drink it, whether or not you double the price or legislate the purveyors within an inch of prohibition. This is a drinking nation. It's a national "culture", binge-drinking. Not the kind of culture that Andy Burnham wants taught five hours a week in the nation's state schools, ho ho, but a culture of sorts.

No rite of passage can be marked in these islands without bottles. Who can forget Alastair Campbell telling Tony Blair not to fret about Euan being found drunk? (Leicester Square, 2001, after his GCSEs.) "Every parent in the land will sympathise," said Alastair. He was right: Richard Littlejohn's smirking piece was headlined, "We've all been there, son", in the Sun.

Britain copes manfully with the clouds of gloom and dismay about violent drunkenness in the same way it copes with other miserable facts of nature, such as rain, HIPs, bad public transport, an NHS without doctors at night or 16-year-olds leaving school illiterate.

The slot about teenage binge-drinkers was not one of Humphrys's vintage Today inquisitions. He couldn't run an inquisition, mostly because not one spokesman from any of the various government departments with a brief on binge-drinking would come on the programme to be quizzed. Not Health, not Children 'n' Schools, not Home Office, not even young Andy from Culture, Media and Sport.

So all Humphrys could do was more or less bristle with why-oh-whys and something-must-be-dones. Under-age drunkenness is part of the national conversation. We have one every day, even down here in Bucolicshire. I'm forever giving the national response to my interlocutors' shocked remarks about yet another blameless father of four being kicked to death by drunken yobs: Oh, I know, tragic, awful - but what's to be done?

The answers come: "I blame the parents; I blame the Government's 24-hour drinking laws; I blame the telly ads that make drinking seem cool; I blame the publicans; I blame the supermarkets for selling lager cheaper than water (cheaper than milk, too, by the way); I blame the off-licences; I blame the iconification of George Best, Gazza." But what's to be done? Actually, I don't blame the publicans, but various ministers who have found themselves skewered on Humphrys's Fork at 8.10am have done.

Drunks in the street were always men; now women have equal opportunities, thanks to me and my sisters-in-arms on the feminist barricades. Drunks in the street used to be people who could pass for 18, or 16 at a pinch; now they're rolling out of primary schools. And drunks were always rude, rough people - what my mother called "dragged up in Rowmarsh Road", though I can't remember now where Rowmarsh Road was - but now they're nicely bred girls stumbling out of nicely appointed wine bars on hen nights.

As we were stringing up Christmas cards around the fireplace, I noticed an unfamiliar signatory who wrote her seasonal message thus: "Hope you have a really great Christmas and a fantastic TOTALLY BLADDERED New Year!!!!" Who on Earth? Oh, it's my friend, said the daughter, sniggering. Really? From school? The one with the MSc in rocket science? "Marine hydrography, and no it's not her. She doesn't drink a lot, actually."

It used not to be acceptable for young women to be seen sprawled and stumbling through the streets, held up by a yelling coven in disarray, busy filming everything on their mobiles. Now it's the genial duty of your daughter and mine at a hen night (I say "night"; it's more often a week) to encourage the bride-to-be into a state of falling-down inebriety.

"Everybody binges at hen nights. Except the ones who are pregnant. Pregnant girls don't drink. Not. At. All. But they sneak off to the bar to get their own drinks, like ­apple juice with a lot of water in it, so it looks like white wine - because people moan when you say you're not drinking, oh, this isn't going to be any fun, blah, blah."

There is, I reckon, nothing simple or Draconian to be done that can be imposed from above or enforced by government, judiciary and police to stop people drinking of their own accord. Maybe it's a millennial bug; maybe it's because there's a war on; maybe it's because drinking cheers people up. It's not just us, Rennes council has closed bars in the city to stop students binge-drinking. (How, pray? They'll go somewhere else.)

In the meantime, we'll continue to have national conversations about mayhem in the streets, while ministers and good, well-meaning people (not necessarily the same) try to think of things that will alter the national predilection for binge-drinking for ever.

Here's one. After much lobbying from (among others) the National Union of Teachers, the names of alcohol companies are now banned from children's replica football shirts.

So Everton can't sell shirts saying Chang Beer, Liverpool can't sell shirts saying Carlsberg and Hibernian can't sell shirts saying Whyte & Mackay. (Or perhaps they still can? Who knows? No one in England knows anything about what goes on in Scotland any more, what with them being a Nation Once Again and all.)

Brilliant, eh? That'll help a lot. In England, anyway. That's a start.

Hang on, though; the legislation that came into force on New Year's day only bans new sponsorship deals made after January 1, 2008. Not current ones. And Budweiser can still sponsor the Premier League and Carling the FA Cup. And for that matter Blackburn Rovers can merrily go on selling shirts saying Bet24 because that's not alcohol-related, but tut, tut, it's an online gambling site, isn't it? Don't they know it's addictive? Won't someone think of the children?

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Zealand Acts to Limit Alcohol Access

BBC News

New Zealand's government has proposed several changes to alcohol laws in a bid to curb youth drinking.

Only those over 20 - up from 18 - will be allowed to buy alcohol from shops.

The sale of pre-mixed drinks with more than 5% alcoholic content will be banned, as will be other products deemed geared to the youth market.

Justice Minister Simon Power said New Zealand had to tackle serious alcohol-related issues; critics say the measures are half-hearted.

Mr Power said that alcohol was estimated to contribute to 1,000 deaths a year in New Zealand and was implicated in 30% of all offences recorded by police.

"What the government has heard from the New Zealand public is that the pendulum has swung too far towards relaxation of alcohol laws," he said.

"But there is a balance to be struck between not unfairly affecting responsible drinkers and dealing with the considerable harm alcohol causes."

But the government package has been attacked as half-hearted by some observers, who said more dramatic action was needed to shock participants in the so-called drinking culture into change.

The director of Christchurch's National Addiction Centre, Professor Doug Sellman, said the government was wrong to see alcohol abuse as essentially a youth problem.

Research found that 92% of New Zealand's heavy drinkers were 20 years and over, and 70% were 25 and over, Alcohol Action NZ said.

The government had avoided the big policy decisions, such as increasing prices and restricting advertising, and ended up with a package that was "like treating cancer with a couple of aspirin", Prof Sellman said.

Members of parliament will vote on the proposals according to individual conscience, not party lines, so the reforms' passage is not guaranteed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One in Five Australians Experience Drinking Problems

Sidney Morning Herald

Australians rank among the world's worst abusers of alcohol, with few seeking help to curb its impact on their health, research shows.

A study by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) has found 18 per cent of Australians will experience periods of problematic drinking within their lifetime, while four per cent become alcoholic.

Problematic drinking includes being unable to perform duties at home or work, or having alcohol-related arguments with a spouse or run-ins with the law.

Professor Maree Teesson said it totalled 22 per cent of the population - or about 3.5 million Australians - whose lives would be seriously and negatively affected by alcohol.

The majority, she said, were young men while less than one in five of those affected would receive any form of professional help.

"One reason for the lack of treatment is that alcohol problems still have a terrible stigma about them," Prof Teesson said.

"People are much less likely to want to own up to having a problem with alcohol than they are about other physical or mental illness yet their abuse of alcohol has serious consequences.

"(They) include getting into fights, drink driving (licence suspensions), taking time off work, child neglect, getting into trouble with the police and driving while drunk."

Prof Teesson and fellow researchers analysed data collected from almost 9000 Australians aged 16 to 85 years for the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing in 2007.

The snapshot of alcohol disorder and dependence showed one third of Australian men will have a drinking problem at some point in their lives - about double the rate of alcohol abuse among women.

Married people and those from a non-English speaking background were less likely to have a problem with alcohol.

Men born during the 10 years to 1987 were 1.7 times more likely to drink at risky levels compared to men born in the decade prior.

More than 40 per cent of those with alcohol problems also report a mental illness, while comparison with a similar study done 10 years ago showed no improvement.

"Alcohol problems are most common in young men, so we need better interventions and prevention strategies for young Australians," Prof Teesson also said.

Looking globally, Australia was found to have rates of problematic drinking on par with New Zealand and the United States, and well above other developed countries including France, Germany and Spain.

The paper concluded "prevalence rates for alcohol use disorders in Australia are some of the highest ... worldwide". Meanwhile, "treatment rates were unacceptably low".

Russia and Ireland were also thought to have a high prevalence of alcohol-related problems, Prof Teesson said, though there was a lack of comparable research.

The NDARC is based at the University of NSW, and the study is to be published this week in the journal Addiction.