By most accounts 2016 was a turbulent year in national and world politics; in UK alcohol policy terms it was by no means uneventful either - the revised drinking guidelines for instance. Looking forward to 2017, it could prove another significant year with the end of Scotland's Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) legal saga finally in sight, but potentially a new one beginning with Brexit's impact on alcohol to be played out.
Looking back, the Institute of Alcohol Studies has produced a short 2016 timeline review based on its monthly Alcohol Alerts, and some less well known news can be found within a collection of the 'most interesting things about drugs and alcohol in 2016' from Andrew Brown (see selected alcohol slides below).
As for the year ahead, whilst obviously not in the business of predicting the future, its safe to assume that many of the recent themes will continue, and a number of conferences have already been announced. So far Dry January appears to be holding its ground as a high profile post Christmas fixture with plenty of media attention and continued debate over its benefits - watch this space.
News on the final MUP appeal by industry groups led by the Scottish Whisky Association could be announced any day, with health advocates optimistic that the final appeal was merely a delaying tactic that cannot stop implementation. If passed, Westminster will be reminded by health groups of its commitment to watch what happens, whilst Ireland and Wales will hope to follow suit shortly. Regardless, public health calls for tax changes as another pricing lever will also continue, with future opportunities to remove EU level duty rules post article 50.
Trends in consumption and harms will certainly continue to be a central feature of policy debates as new data emerges. Over the last decade, opponents of tighter alcohol policies have been championing falling consumption rates, sometimes boldly claiming 'partnership working' as a key factor. The year ahead may see more of the new industry funded 'Alcohol Information Partnership' intent on championing positive trends and industry activities. Public health advocates have reiterated the nuances in the changes across groups and that many key measures of harm are yet to fall, wanting action on advertising as well as price and availability.
At local level, commissioners and services will be continuing to navigate reductions in public health budgets used to fund treatment, although new activity may be seen through a new IBA CQUIN payments framework in secondary care and new Local Alcohol Action Areas (LAAAs) in selected locations.
Also of note will be how an announcement of a planned merger between Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern plays out, what further activities Public Health England support following its recent evidence review, and whether changes may be on the horizon for the Licensing Act following a current Lords review.
Interesting things in 2016..
Selected alcohol slides from the 'most interesting things about drugs and alcohol in 2016' from Andrew Brown: