UK Government warns of tougher alcohol laws

Posted by Editorial on 24th July 2008

The UK Government has sent a strong warning to alcohol companies via a proposal to implement extensive legislation changes if the industry doesn’t adhere to its’ own voluntary standards.


Mandatory regulation and labelling could be on the cards following a major consultation about England’s drinking culture, launched this week by Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo.

The Department of Health consultation is published together with independent reviews, which claim that the drinks industry is not adhering to its own voluntary standards.

The consultation proposals would dictate that the current voluntary retailing code could become mandatory. This would mean retailers could have to:

– restrict the way alcohol is sold such as offering drinks in small as well as large glasses or measures;

– restrict happy hours or irresponsible price based promotions – women ‘drink for free’ promotions are still all too common, according to the Department;

– display alcohol in off-licence premises in separate areas – no more displays by the checkout;

– give point of sale information; for example, on units, allowing customers to make an informed choice; and

– train staff in shops and venues to recognise and refuse alcohol to underage or drunk customers.

Manufacturers will be given until the end of the year to put the required warnings and advice on bottles and cans. If not, Government will move to put a mandatory scheme in place. This would require health and unit information on all drinks containers.

Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, believes a tougher approach may now be needed. “The evidence from this series of reviews, and the hospital admissions data, clearly make this the right time to consult on a far tougher approach to the alcohol industry,” she said. “The drinks industry has a vital role to play if we are to change the country’s attitudes to alcohol. Some sections of the industry are sticking to the voluntary codes, others are blatantly ignoring them. This consultation will decide whether legally binding regulations for retailers and manufacturers to promote sensible drinking are the way forward.”

The ability of such reform to work has been questioned, with claims that education is needed before new legislation is to be considered. “The Government’s approach should be to address the underlying culture and change attitudes, not just legislate and regulate. Legislation is a sledgehammer that will not crack the nut,” proclaimed Mark Hastings, Director of Communications at the British Beer and Pub Association. “There also needs to be the right balance between individual and corporate responsibility. We expect to be held to account for those things we can control, but companies cannot and should not be held to account for individual choices and behaviours that are beyond their ability to control.”

“This is an industry that already bears the burden of one the heaviest tax and regulatory regimes in the world,” Mr Hastings added. “With the economy in a precarious position, business under pressure, pubs closing at record rates and people feeling the pinch, now is not the time to be announcing a raft of new costs, regulations and restrictions on either businesses or individuals. The inevitable impact of such measures is to force up costs and prices and push more pubs towards penury.”

“This seems to be a classic example of the Government’s tendency towards announcing new laws, rather than enforcing existing ones. There are plenty of laws and regulations to deal with irresponsible pubs and people,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the much publicized RTD tax has again come under fire, with the Liberal party highlighting its’ inflationary nature following the release of inflation data yesterday.