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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

The UK drinks industry breathed a sigh of relief this week as the Government's much-heralded Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy recommended increased industry self-regulation and social responsibility, rather than swingeing legislation to curb advertising or increase prices. The report stopped short of imposing mandatory health warnings on bottles, although the industry was strongly encouraged' to go along with the proposed self-regulation charter, which includes the introduction of sensible drinking advice on packaging. The success of the voluntary approach will be reviewed early in the next parliament,' states the report, and if harm' has not been reduced, additional steps' will be assessed, including legislation'. Apart from asking for increased alcohol harm information in-store and a tougher stance on under-age sales, the off-trade emerged relatively unscathed, with the focus clearly on curbing binge drinking' and anti-social behaviour in the on-trade. A number of measures have been suggested, including increased use of fixed-penalty fines for alcohol-related anti-social behaviour, community wardens to police taxi ranks and further curbs on irresponsible promotions' such as happy hours. It stopped short, however, of forcing city-centre pubs and clubs to pay for the cost of policing late-night drunks and recommended a voluntary contribution. Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, commented: The policy recommendations are a tough and demanding call to action that will require genuine partnership to put into practice.' A response mirrored by Peter Derbyshire, a director of wine importer Thierry's and vice-president of the WSA: The Government has thrown down the gauntlet to the industry. We need to work together to reduce the obvious problems resulting from binge drinking. I am pleased, however, that the Government has realised this is a problem for the whole of society to tackle and that the drinks industry is not the scapegoat.' A source told Harpers that the Home Office had been pressing for more powers to limit advertising, licences and other issues, but the DTI and the Treasury had moved to protect industry and government revenues. They would rather work with industry to solve the problem.'