Experts whose opinions must be heeded
THE cost of alcohol abuse in Plymouth is enormous – measured both in terms of a financial drain and human misery.
Last July we calculated how the problem costs every single resident of this city £320 a year – an annual total of £80m.
In light of this the council and health experts rightly joined forces to devise a Strategic Alcohol Plan. It's a title which smacks of dull bureaucracy but, in fact, could not be more important in its significance or intent.
Alcohol destroys lives – this city alone has an estimated 46,000 people who are deemed to be "harmful drinkers" – and of those nearly 7,000 are defined as dependent. More troubling still is the estimate that up to 6,500 children are affected by their parents' boozy lifestyle.
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Today we report that the panel set up to devise that crucial strategy have heard evidence from a number of experts who have called for a ban on shops selling super strength lager and cider. These are experts whose opinions must be heeded.
The Government's much trumpeted (and criticised) proposal to impose a minimum price of 45p per unit of alcohol looks doomed so there seems little hope of a national solution so it is up to us to deal with this scourge.
Tackling alcohol abuse is a complex issue and there is no easy answer, but a ban on shops selling high strength lager and cider would clearly be a step in the right direction. These aren't the kinds of drinks consumed by healthy happy people during a fun night out, during an evening with friends or just to unwind in front of the telly. These are potent brews designed for one purpose – to get drunk as quickly and cheaply as possible.
It is less clear how such a ban would work. The panel will need to consider whether local bylaws or licensing rules could provide a stronger framework. But perhaps a speedier solution could be found through the examples set elsewhere. In Ipswich a voluntary ban was imposed and the panel would need to consider whether there is the will to make that effective in this city.
The voice of the police – the organisation which faces the effects of alcohol abuse on a daily basis – is important to this debate and we would welcome their view on a ban. It seems likely they would agree with the experts who have spoken with such clarity.
It is right that the panel takes time to listen to these expert views, but the time for action is upon us.