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Public health directors query LGA alcohol stance

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Minimum alcohol pricing should be “an essential cornerstone of an overall alcohol strategy,” a leading public health director has said.

Dr Frank Atherton, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, told LGC he supported a government proposal to set a minimum unit price for alcohol, and said he was surprised that the LGA had raised concerns about it.

Speaking at the LGA’s alcohol strategy conference earlier this week, David Rogers (Lib Dem), chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “We are concerned that targeting cheap alcohol could push people to the black market and cheaper drinks.

“Focusing solely on making alcohol less affordable will fail to address the root causes of binge drinking as well as the nuisance, vandalism and risks to health it causes.”

Cllr Rogers called for more powers for councils to tackle binge drinking locally. He said this could be done by simplifying the licensing system to make it easier for councils to refuse to allow some new nightclubs to open.

However, Dr Atherton said he saw minimum pricing as crucial. “I am surprised by the LGA’s comments,” he said. “Clearly minimum pricing is not a panacea, but the economics of this is crystal clear. Alcohol purchase is sensitive to pricing.

“We see minimum pricing as an essential cornerstone of an overall alcohol strategy,” he said.

Dr Atherton said Cllr Rogers’ proposal on licensing was important but would not address the whole problem. “It would not tackle the chronic overconsumption of alcohol by people who are quietly drinking themselves into ill health at home,” he said. “Minimum pricing will tackle that.”

Dr Atherton said it was also important to address advertising, the illicit production and distribution of alcohol, and educating children.

From April 2013, local government will take over responsibility for alcohol services from the NHS.

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