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Research questions government's "billions of units of alcohol" removed from market claim

Published:  25 March, 2015

A new study has questioned the government's claim that it has removed billions of units of alcohol from the market.

In an article published by the British Medical Journal this week, the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) at Sheffield University claimed the Department of Health's progress report on its Public Health Responsibility Deal, published in December, was "flawed", "simplistic", and failed to take account of external factors.

In December, The Department of Health claimed 12.3 billion units had been removed from the market between 2011 and 2013 a result of its pledge, and this had exceeded its target two years early.

However the researchers argue the analyses and data underpinning the headline figure "raised questions" about how much of the recent changes in alcohol consumption were attributable to the pledge, and claimed the data "may not be fit for purpose".

Dr John Holmes, senior research fellow at Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research and lead author of the study, called for the report to be withdrawn and revised targets set.

"The Department of Health and their partners in the Responsibility Deal have promoted the billion unit pledge as an example of what can be achieved by government working in partnership with the alcohol industry," Holmes said.

Big Ben

"Flaws in the Department of Health's interim evaluation which are sufficiently serious that we believe the report should be withdrawn along with claims that the target of removing one billion units from the market has been met."

It said the billion unit pledge should be abandoned in favour of "measurable alternatives".

The researchers suggested HMRC change the way it records beer data and said the introduction of lower taxes on lower strength beers seemed to account for some of the estimated effect of the pledge.

It criticised the government's assumption that the pledge would lead people to simply drink the same amount of beer and wine but at a lower strength, saying this was "simplistic" and likely give misleading results.