In the recent budget, the Chancellor failed to act on the price of alcohol other than cheap ciders, despite a widespread public health consensus that minimum unit pricing would be an effective step. A year ago today, one of our students at Newcastle University died of alcohol poisoning.  A day or so later I received the following note from our press office:

A Daily Mail reporter is writing a feature about bars and pubs who are still selling cheap alcohol offers to young people like students. In light of the 20-year old Newcastle University student, Ed Farmer, who recently died of excessive alcohol consumptionShe knows that most Student Unions have now banned society drinking games and initiations within campus bars. The reporter noticed that pubs like, the Soho Rooms which is part of the Council’s “Raising the Bar” scheme – promoting responsible drinking (holds the silver position). They are currently selling 9-shots of Vodka for £5The reporter wants to know what checks are in place by the local authority for such pubs, who are openly advertising (online) basically saying to people “why not get smashed with us!

  • What line do pubs have to cross for the local authority to say “we won’t renew your licence”?
  • She wants to know what role the council has / our duty to set standards for bars and pubs to adhere to?
  • What preventative measures are put in place by the Council?

For interest, I enclose below the full text of my response:

“We agree completely that vodka, or any other alcoholic drink, being sold at £5 for 9 shots is dangerous and inappropriate. A shot of vodka is equivalent to about 1 unit of alcohol, so a price of £5 for 9 shots is a price per unit of about 56p per unit. This is comfortably higher than the proposed Scottish minimum unit price for alcohol of 50p per unit which has been fought through the courts by the alcohol industry, and reinforces the view that even a rate of 50p per unit would be too low.

“At present the Government has no plans to introduce minimum unit pricing in England despite overwhelming evidence to support its effectiveness as a means of reducing alcohol-related harm – recently supported in a review of evidence by Public Health England.

“The ‘Raising the Bar’ policy is based upon working with businesses in the city to try and promote healthy behaviours and health protection to the greatest extent that we can within the existing law. We consider that it would be irresponsible not to attempt to act in this way, given the restrictions of existing legislation. At present the council is not permitted by law to remove a licence on the basis of the price of alcohol. We are, however, working to  strengthen our collaborative approach to health protection which extends beyond alcohol to cover action on other areas of personal risk, and of sexual health in particular – review of each business’s status will consider its adherence to good practice.

“Newcastle City Council welcomes the Daily Mail’s support for minimum unit pricing and the power for local authorities to enforce this as part of its approach to protecting the health of the public.”

Here is the article as it finally appeared, and which (surprise!) doesn’t follow through on the logic of the Mail’s questions.

I offer my deepest sympathy to the Farmer family – I, too, have had a young, close relative die of alcohol poisoning – we will not forget, and we will not stop arguing for public policy that prioritises wellbeing and health over profit.