Licensing Act

Health experts call for greater distinction between on and off-trade sales

By Liam Coleman

- Last updated on GMT

Licensing laws: call for supermarkets to be treated differently to pubs
Licensing laws: call for supermarkets to be treated differently to pubs

Related tags Minimum unit pricing Alcoholic beverage

Health experts have called for a greater distinction between on and off-trade sales at a House of Lords review of the Licensing Act 2003.

The Licensing Act committee, which has been discussing the effectiveness of the act, has this week heard from representatives from the Alcohol Health Alliance, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the director of public health for Haringey Council.

Discussing the effects of alcohol on health and wellbeing, both Professor Colin Drummond, chair of the addictions psychiatry team at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the alcohol health alliance, argued that any review should distinguish between pub sales and supermarket sales. 

"There are differences in the target populations that use pubs and use off-licences," Professor Drummond said.

"I know there is an overlap between the two, but people who are very heavy drinkers and are alcohol dependant do not tend to drink in pubs because the amount they are consuming they wouldn't be able to afford to do that, so they get their alcohol from off sales.

"White cider is preferred by the kind of people I see in addiction clinics in south London because that is what they can afford to do. Unless we do something about the very cheap price of these super-strength products then we're not going to have an impact on the amount that dependant drinkers consume. Changing licensing in pubs is not going to have an impact on dependant drinkers."

Professor Sir Gilmore added: "There is a fundamental difference between buying a final pint of beer in a pub at 1am and buying a bottle of cheap vodka at a petrol station at 1am. We do need some tools to attack that."

Minimum unit pricing

The experts also gave their thoughts on minimum unit pricing and the possibility of an additional licensing objective focused on health.

Director of public health at Haringey Council, Jeanelle de Gruchy, argued for a fifth licensing objective based around health and wellbeing, as currently used in Scotland, in the wider United Kingdom. "[In] a survey that was done this year of our members of all policies [our members would like to see], the licensing objective came in the top three," she said.

The committee also heard a variety of arguments around how a new pricing structure for alcohol could discourage regular heavy drinking. Professor Drummond from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said that minimum unit pricing would benefit moderate drinkers: "The good thing about minimum unit pricing, as opposed to duty or VAT, is that it would specifically target underage drinkers and the heaviest drinkers.

"According to the University of Sheffield's modelling exercise, the amount that is spent on alcohol relative to the total amount of income is greater in the heaviest drinkers that favour the cheaper drinks, so it would have a greater impact on them and have little to no impact on the moderate drinkers."

Related topics Licensing law

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