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Labour's alcohol policies to boost Britain's health attacked by trade bodies

Published:  16 January, 2015

Labour party plans to introduce a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events, combined with a series of measures to boost Britain's health have been attacked by the drinks industry's major trade associations.

Labour party plans to introduce a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events, combined with a series of measures to boost Britain's health were watered down at the last minute following internal disagreements about how far it should go with its health proposals to tackle alcohol misuse.

According to media reports today senior Labour figures thought an outright ban on alcohol sponsorship on sport would be seen as "anti-business" as well as other measures to enforce a minimum price on alcohol and restrict the visibility of alcohol in supermarkets.

Under the plans that were announced yesterday by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham, a future Labour government would hike up taxes on cheap, strong alcohol such as white cider, review alcohol and sports sponsorship and tighten up existing labelling rules around calorie information and advice to pregnant women.

The measures are part of what would be Labour's attempt to attack binge drinking, alcohol misuse, and levels of obesity and smoking, starting at "protecting" children from future health hazards at an early eage.

Burnham said it was vital "tougher action" was taken  "to protect children and give each child a healthier start in life".

But the proposals that were announced were seized up on by the drinks industry's major trade associations. Bridgid Simmonds, chief executive, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said of Labour's intention to review sports sponsorship: "If Labour rightly wants more people to get active, why pursue policies that would undermine sports sponsorship? Around £300 million comes from alcohol sponsorship, with some £50 million going directly to grassroots sport. Carried out responsibly, alcohol sponsorship benefits sport, both nationally and locally."

She was backed up by Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, who added: "Alcohol advertising and sponsorship is already strictly regulated by the ASA and the Portman Group, including tough measures to prevent advertising to young people, and evidence shows that outright bans do nothing to tackle alcohol related harm. Without the significant investment from alcohol sponsorship in sport, and particularly grassroots programmes nationwide, many sports may not be viable in the long term."

But Beale did welcome the fact Labour's proposals "do not recommend further restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship".

On Labour's plans to introduce more labelling regulations around calorie information on alcohol products, Beale added: "The industry is not opposed to the principle of providing more calorie information to consumers, but this needs to be done in a way that is balanced and fair."

On mandatory pregnancy labelling, Beale added: "The industry has already committed to ensuring that health and unit information is available on 80% of labels on shelf and we are leading Europe in this regard. In addition, pregnancy warnings now already appear on over 90% of labels. For this reason we are not convinced that costly regulation to make this mandatory is necessary."

Beale said Labour's plan to make health a licensing objective could create "confusion and there is little evidence it has reduced alcohol harm".

He added: "The promotion of partnerships between the trade and local government is a proven way of tackling alcohol related harm in local communities, through voluntary schemes like Community Alcohol Partnerships. We also believe that this partnership approach with industry is cheaper, less bureaucratic and more effective. We would like to see a greater emphasis on continuing this approach."

Labour's health plans

Burnham made clear a future Labour government would be particularly hard on products such as cheap white cider. In its paper 'Protecting Children, Empowering All: Labour's New Approach to Public Health in the 21st Century' Labour says it will target "high strength, low cost products that are affordable to children, fuel binge drinking and do most harm to health, but this will not affect the vast majority of people."

As for its "ambition" an alcohol the Labour party proposals go on to state: "We want to support people to make healthy choices on drinking, helping to reduce the proportion of the population who regularly drink excessively, and we will also tackle the problems of underage drinking, to cut significantly the proportion of children who drink."

In particular its approach to "protecting children" will be to:

* crack down on the high strength, low cost alcohol products such as ultra low priced 7.5% white cider sold in large plastic bottles. It is "considering" in its plans "prohibiting or discouraging the sale of cider in three litre bottles".

Either by "regulating the permissible size of the containers in which high strength cider is sold" or "taxing larger volume cider containers more heavily" or "creating a new, higher duty band specifically for high strength ciders. This would have the effect of increasing the price of high strength, ultra low priced ciders without affecting mainstream ciders, in the process helping shift consumption to lower strength products".