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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

The prime minister's Strategy Unit released a sobering interim report ahead of its long-awaited National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy last week and stated that alcohol abuse is costing the UK 20 billion a year in health and social costs, with society also paying an increasingly heavy toll. Numerous grim statistics on the cost of alcohol abuse were given, including the news that alcohol is said to cause more than 20,000 deaths a year and be a factor in 1.2 million violent incidents, with large numbers of drinkers causing themselves potentially serious harm' by binge drinking. The government appears keen to protect the trade to some extent, however, pointing out that the large majority of people who drink, do so without causing themselves or others harm' and that the drinks business is worth 30 billion to the UK economy, raises 7 billion in tax and employs more than half a million people. It was also recognised that moderate drinking prevents as many deaths as heavy drinking causes. Jean Coussins, chief executive of the Portman Group, welcomed the report and described it as generally balanced'. She added: What we need now is action. The government should develop mass-media campaigns to curb excessive drinking, funded at the same level as its drink-drive campaigns over the years.' Up to 40% of mens' drinking sessions now technically qualify as a binge' (in excess of the equivalent of four pints of beer). Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, also called for more government cash to be spent on alcohol misuse - to boost both education and treatment. We recently spearheaded a year-long commission into help-giving alcohol services that revealed that they required a three-fold increase in resources, from 100 million to 300 million. This increase is around 50 million less than Diageo is spending on its planned revamp of Smirnoff Vodka,' he said. Coussins called on the industry to be part of the solution to alcohol misuse. The spirit as well as the letter of the strict advertising codes must be observed. Stronger law enforcement of existing laws on drunkenness and selling alcohol to children is also a must.' The full strategy is expected to be published later this year.