Alcohol Policy Options – Research can distinguish between the useful and the useless says expert

Posted on: 27 April 2006

The difference between good and bad alcohol policy is not an abstraction, but very often a matter of life and death, according to Prof Griffith Edwards, National Addiction Centre, University of London speaking at Trinity College’s White Social Policy annual lecture on 27 April.

Listed among worst practices by Prof Edwards are alcohol education in schools and colleges, public service messages, warning labels and voluntary codes of bar practice.

Best practices in addressing alcohol abuse include graduated licensing for learner drivers, Government monopoly of retail sales, minimum legal purchase age, restrictions on hours or days of sale, outlet density restrictions, sobriety check points and brief interventions for hazardous drinkers.

“Because alcohol is no ordinary commodity, the public has a right to expect a more enlightened, evidence-based approach to alcohol policy. The impact of education and persuasion programmes tends to be small at best. Drinking-driving countermeasures consistently produce long-term reductions of between 5 – 30%. Deterrence-based approaches, such as random breath testing yield few arrests but substantial accident reductions”.

“Evidence suggests that alcohol prices affect the level of alcohol consumption. Alcohol taxes are an attractive instrument of alcohol policy because they can be used both to generate direct revenue and to reduce alcohol-related harm. Alcohol related death and disability accounts for 4% of the global burden of disease and alcohol accounts for about the same amount of disease as tobacco”.

In Ireland, the recorded adult per capita consumption of pure alcohol doubled from 7 litres in 1970 to 14.5 litres in 2001, stated Prof Edwards (source: Food and Agriculture of the UN, World Drink Trends 2003). The standardised mortality rates for liver cirrhosis among Irish men at all ages more than doubled from 5.4 per 100,000 per year in 1957-1961 to 11.1 in 1997 – 2001.  

Prof Griffith Edwards has been centrally involved in World Health Organisation’s (WHO) reports on alcohol and alcohol-related problems over the past 30 years and has written extensively in the field, including the landmark ‘Alcohol Policy and the Public Good'(1994) which has been translated into 8 languages.

A former consultant to the White House on the prevention of drug abuse, his contributions to the study of both addiction and treatment have earned him international scientific recognition.  He was awarded the CBE in 1987 for his contribution to social science and medicine.

TCD’s White Social Policy Lecture Series aims to promote and stimulate informed debate on public issues of topical importance. It is sponsored by TCD graduate Tony White, who is now a private investor and philanthropist in New York
Alcohol Policy Options – Research can distinguish between the useful and the useless says expert