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Alcohol Abuse Must be solved with Action

Scotland's epidemic of alcohol abuse can only be tackled by more action and less talk according to opposition parties, yesterday as the health minister// voiced support for higher taxes on drinks.

Leading doctors have launched a new group called Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) to raise awareness of alcohol-related health problems and push for action to cut alcohol misuse.

However the SNP and Conservative parties say the Executive needs to deal with the problem now, rather than wait for more discussion of the issue.

These concerns were raised after Andy Kerr, the Scottish health minister, indicated his support for Patricia Hewitt, Westminster's health secretary’s proposed hike in taxes on alcohol, particularly products like alcopops which are popular with young people.

He said, "I agree with the point about cost."

"These views have been aired last week by the Health Minister in the UK to the Treasury and I support those views."

While the Executive has no powers over tax matters, Mr Kerr said they would be sharing their opinions with Westminster. SHAAP, formed by the Scottish Intercollegiate Group on Alcohol, will also consider tax and pricing issues.

The Executive has its own group - the Scottish Ministerial Advisory Committee on Alcohol Problems - while charities such as Alcohol Focus Scotland also operate across the country.

Shona Robison, SNP health spokeswoman, said: "There is a danger of this new group being more talking and not enough action. Most people recognise where the problems are and it's now about taking action to deal with it.

"The Executive may not have direct powers on taxation but there is nothing to stop Andy Kerr confronting the supermarkets who are using alcohol as a loss-leading product."

According to Nanette Milne, the Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman, more needed to be done to enforce the law to cut underage drinking and disorder.

She said, "We all know what needs to be done and the time for talking needs to turn to action."

Dr Bruce Ritson, who chairs SHAAP, insisted that as well as discussing alcohol issues, the group would push for action. "If we thought this was just about talking we would not be forming this group," he said.

"One of our first tasks will be to raise awareness of the impact of alcohol on health. Then we will push for public and political awareness of the steps that might be used to reduce alcohol-related problems."

Gillian Bell, from Alcohol Focus Scotland, commented that pricing and taxation was only one way of tackling alcohol abuse.

She said: "There are a whole range of things to be done. Several measures to curb alcohol abuse have been tried across Europe including taxation. While this has led to lower levels of binge-drinking, critics say it just means drinkers pay more for their drinks.

In addition experts also believe a major problem is that earnings have risen faster than alcohol prices, and people have rising amounts of disposable income.

In Scotland alone statistics show that one in four men and one in ten women in Scotland drink at levels hazardous to health. Alcohol-related problems have been estimated to cost Scotland more than £1 billion a year.

Hospital admissions for high levels of intoxication increased by 40 per cent for men and 30 per cent for women between 1996 and 2004. In 2004 1,113 children and teenagers were admitted to hospital with serious drink-related illnesses.


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