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Scotland Alcohol Experience A Warning For NZ

Scotland Alcohol Experience A Cautionary Tale For New Zealand
MAY 14 2009

Scotland’s alcohol experience is a cautionary tale for New Zealand, says a leading Scottish advisor to the Scottish Parliament on the issue of alcohol abuse.

Dr Peter Rice is a consultant psychiatrist with NHS Tayside, vice chair of Alcohol Focus Scotland and a member of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) Executive Committee established by the Scottish Medical Colleges to raise awareness of alcohol–related health problems.

Dr Rice told the Alcohol Advisory Council’s (ALAC) Working Together Conference in Wellington today that chronic health harms had escalated in Scotland over the last 20 years.

``Alcohol abuse leads to the more obvious problems such as violence and street disorder but there are more silent chronic health problems that also happen. And often they get less attention.’’

In Scotland over the last 20 years there had been a three-fold increase in alcohol-related deaths, a 52 percent increase in alcoholic liver disease between 1998 and 2002 and increasing rates of liver disease and alcohol-related cancers such as breast cancer and mouth cancer.

``These changes happen quite quickly and there is a cautionary tale here for New Zealand which is facing many of the issues faced by Scotland.’’

Dr Rice said cheap price and easy availability were the key drivers that influenced the rates of alcohol problems. The Scottish Government was looking at a number of proposals to try to tackle this problem and a key strategy was a mandatory minimum price for alcohol.

In the United Kingdom excise tax had ceased to have much effect on the price of alcohol. He said the last rise in excise taxes was absorbed by the retailers. ``They in effect took the hit on the tax in order to encourage foot traffic into their stores.’’

Dr Rice said the supermarkets advertised ‘we have paid the tax for you’. “Because excise tax isn’t impacting on shelf price, that’s why we are looking at a minimum price.” The minimum price would not affect pub or restaurant prices since most of the cheap alcohol sold in Britain was in the supermarkets.

Dr Rice said New Zealand should be monitoring alcohol-related health statistics and investing in early intervention in primary care settings. ``There was good evidence that brief interventions such as general practitioners raising the issue of alcohol in the course of a normal consultation were an effective strategy in reducing alcohol harms.’’

Other proposals being considered by the Scottish government included:

• No discounts for multiple purchase. (An end to offers such as three bottles of wine for the price of two or 20 beers for the price of 12).
• Age limit of 21 in off licences. Age limit for purchase in pubs or restaurants or in private settings to remain at 18.
• Social responsibility fee from industry for city centre management.
• Investment in more support and treatment with a particular emphasis on early detection and intervention.


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