Public Health England (PHE) have released its review of the evidence on actions to address alcohol harms.
The evidence review covers seven key areas:
- Taxation and price regulation
- Regulating marketing
- Regulating availability
- Providing information and education
- Managing the drinking environment
- Reducing drink-driving
- Brief interventions and treatment
PHE highlighted the work was subject to an extensive three-stage peer-review involving UK and international academics, and aims to equip policy makers to consider initiatives which will best prevent or reduce alcohol harm. The review also includes updated analysis of drinking trends and their economic effects.
Evidence-based policy - a hard fought battle?
PHE committed to producing the evidence review in 2014 when it announced alcohol harms as one of its key priorities. As such, PHE will have had to negotiate its position in relation to delivering and influencing national alcohol policy within a complex and changing context. Asides from delivering resources and support to local areas, PHE stated early support for Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) as a key public health policy.
Of course little has yet been said over how or to what extent the evidence review will be considered by Government officials, though media including the Daily Mail reported a Number 10 spokesperson said the issue of MUP was 'under review while we await the outcome of the court case in Scotland.'
Generally the findings and policy implications of the review are consistent with those previously articulated by researchers or public health documents such as the 'Health First' alcohol strategy proposed by a coalition of health bodies in 2013. Many such organisations signed a letter to the Chancellor calling for pricing action as advised in the report. Twitter inevitably provoked coverage and debate, including some questions over how changes in consumption were reported and other criticisms from regular opponents of public health arguments.
Important implications for Government policy will also lie within other conclusions from the report. The review states there is no clear evidence that voluntary industry-led partnerships (including the recent ‘Responsibility Deal’) are effective in reducing alcohol harms. Although there has been no commitment to renewing the Responsibility Deal, perhaps owing to the level of controversy and criticism it faced, voluntary approaches are still likely to remain favourable to legislation. Indeed the recent 'Local Alcohol Action Areas' (LAAAs) detailed a significant focus on partnerships with trade and industry, as did the alcohol section of the Crime Prevention Strategy released earlier this year.
Many other areas may also present policy makers with dilemmas, whether it be a drink drive limit facing renewed calls to be brought in line with Europe, or the evidence supporting the invest to save nature or brief intervention and treatment at a time of local public health cuts. As Alcohol Research UK's summary of the key areas and issues states, whilst 'alcohol policy needs to balance a range of interests', the evidence review 'confirms that there are policy levers available to Government that can have a measurable impact on alcohol harm reduction'.
Last year England was ranked lowest out of the four UK nations in a report assessing the extent of evidence based policy making. PHE may hope its evidence review instigates sufficient change in Government policy to alter its ranking.