The Government’s efforts to reduce alcohol problems have been derailed by its own decision to allow round-the-clock drinking, MPs have heard.
It was also revealed that alcohol-related deaths were five times higher annually than the Government had previously claimed.
Supermarkets were also to blame for selling cut price alcohol, doctors and academics told the House of Commons health select committee yesterday.
“Supermarkets at the moment are displaying the morality of the crack dealer,” said Martin Plant, Professor of Addiction Studies at the University of the West of England.
He added: “They have been told for several years that what they are doing is completely irresponsible. Cheap alcohol kills people.”
Prof Plant also criticised pubs for targeting young women and said “all the advertising is aimed at young women and there are discriminatory offers such as ‘women can drink free tonight’.”
The president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Professor Ian Gilmore, told MPs that the number of alcohol-induced deaths was much higher than the official figure of 8,000.
He said that up to 40,000 deaths a year are caused by alcohol, including deaths from cancers, high blood pressure which leads to strokes and heart attacks, and violence.
Prof Gilmore said the Department of Health’s strategy to reduce harm from alcohol had been derailed by the Home Office’s 24-hour drinking laws which were introduced at the same time.
He said: “It was in my view unfortunate that the plan coincided with a change in licensing laws which made it easier for places to stay open longer, and made it more difficult to turn down applications for licences, with no need to take public health into account.”
He told the all-party Commons health select committee that it was for this reason he believed the “Government strategy has not worked”.
He also warned of the damage caused by cut price alcohol in supermarkets. He blamed the cheap deals for the surge in binge drinking, claiming it had triggered a culture among young people of drinking cheap alcohol at home before heading to pubs and bars.
Prof Gilmore backed last month’s call by Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson for a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol.
Announcing the recommendations in his 2008 Annual Report, Sir Liam warned: “Cheap alcohol is killing us as never before.”
A survey published in July 2008 by the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed most police authorities, hospitals and councils had found that 24-hour drinking had failed to curb alcohol-related incidents.
It showed that nearly one in three NHS Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) reported an increase in alcohol-related incidents since the 2003 Licensing Act.
Half of police authorities said that far from creating the promised continental-style café culture in the UK, the new laws had simply pushed alcohol-related violence later into the evening.
Seven in ten police authorities, PCTs and councils said that 24-hour drinking had either increased or failed to change levels of alcohol-related incidents.
And councils said that £100 million in taxpayers’ money had been paid out to implement the changes.