Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
280. Thank you for that. Finally, health, which
is a serious issue. Studies on alcohol abuse suggest that it is
a growing and serious problem in Scotland, especially in Glasgow.
A recent study by the Greater Glasgow Health Board estimated 30,000
males and 3,000 females drink more than twice the recommended
weekly limit and that some 350 deaths per year can be attributed
to alcohol abuse. Excessive drinking is also responsible for between
20-30 per cent of acute hospital admissions in Glasgow. What concerns
do you as an industry have regarding the adverse health and social
costs of alcohol abuse? What steps are you taking to address what
is clearly a serious problem for Scottish society?
(Mr Stewart) Richard is very active in this area.
(Mr Gibb) The misuse of alcohol is a serious problem
in Scotland, England, internationally. I think it does have to
be put into the context of the fact that the sensible use of alcohol
is potentially beneficial and, indeed, the sensible use of alcohol
is accepted by Her Majesty's Government as part of a healthy lifestyle.
I think the huge majority of people are doing that. The industry
is involved in a number of measures to promote sensible drinking
as the proper way to do it. You will be familiar with the activities
of the Portman Group which our company is involved in, along with
a number of other major companies, who actively promote both sensible
drinking and, indeed, most recently are now piloting in Manchester,
in fact, campaigns against binge drinking particularly amongst
the young. They are very active in a number of initiatives in
that area. Similarly, both the UK Government in respect of England
and Wales and the Scottish Executive are pursuing significant
reports on alcohol misuse and abuse. There is the Scottish Advisory
Committee on Alcohol Misuse, in which the industry takes an active
part, and I know that because I do it personally, looking at ways
in which in a Scottish climate or, indeed, by comparison with
international measures we can find ways of civilising alcohol
consumption so that what is a pleasurable and potentially beneficial
activity does not go astray. To take one very particular issue,
I think we would continue to return to a pragmatic industry thing
which is the question of licensing. Licensing and the creation
of sensible licensed premises, of not putting everybody out at
the same time, the things for civilising which I gave in response
to Anne Begg's question about the change in licences. New licensed
premises with plate glass windows serving food which attract women
to come into pubs are part of the civilising process and the progression
towards a more civilised licensing system. Scotland actually does
have a more civilised one than England already but there are still
changes that could be made in those respects. Again, the Scottish
Committee actually accepts that, so there is a co-operation there.
The industry will continue to be involved with all the bodies
who are looking at what is the involvement of alcohol in a number
of problems. Some of the problems are specific to alcohol, some
of the biomedical ones, but some of them are broader social problems
in which alcohol is involved and that has to be recognised as
well. We will continue to be involved in all of those bodies and
supporting all of those bodies who need to address these issues.
281. It has been put to us that a unit of alcohol
is a unit of alcohol regardless of in what form it is consumed.
Do you have any view as to whether people are more likely to become
alcoholics if they drink beer or wine or spirits?
(Mr Gibb) My understanding is there is little medical
evidence on the long-term movement towards addiction amongst those
who become addicted. There are physiological differences in the
impact of different drinks. Beer is a long drink, a relatively
low alcohol drink, and in a lot of international jurisdictions
there is an acceptance that beer, and to a lesser extent wine,
has a different characteristic from what they would describe as
hard liquor in those terms and in a health agenda in other markets
there is an acceptance that there is a difference there. It is
a complex issue but, in answer to your specific question, there
is no evidence. One of the things that people do need to be aware
of particularly in terms of alcohol and the young is that the
very young in some cases will tend not to be too choosy about
the form in which they are getting their alcohol and will adopt
it on price. The delivery to them of very high alcohol products
at an advantageous price regime I have to say would be catastrophic
in social terms. The Chancellor took steps some time ago to address
the issue in respect of strong cider, which was clearly a social
issue, where the tax was raised significantly on strong cider
because litre bottles of whatever it was was the most efficient
way for the young to buy alcohol. Any change in the alcohol duty
regime which may upset that balance would be a serious concern.
282. It is alleged that Buckfast wine is a big
problem in certain parts of Scotland. Do you think that similar
measures that were applied to strong cider would be effective
in dealing with products like Buckfast?
(Mr Gibb) There are products in that category. It
is an efficient alcohol cost per penny, to put it crudely in those
terms. I think the examination of some of those issues is a sensible
thing although the regime has gone slightly against those products
but not as much as it might do.
(Mr Stewart) We should also be aware of the immediate
delivery of effect of some mixed drinks that are currently on
the market. Beer is relatively benign, as Richard has identified,
in terms of its alcohol effect and it is not something that you
are going to down very quickly. We do know that in the young markets
you are dealing with people who consume alcohol very rapidly and
it is absorbed more rapidly into the bloodstream than it is with
beer. There are differences associated particularly with hard
liquor and that is you have the international attitude particularly
to white spirits that you have around the world. Shots of tequila,
tequila slammers, are consumed very rapidly, by definition, by
comparison with a half pint or a pint of beer.
(Mr Sharp) Spirit mixers, just as sweet fizzy drinks,
are actually quite easy to consume because they are like Coca-Cola,
it is a problem. I always think that beer and whisky is much more
of a challenge to acquire a taste for. When I started drinking
it was cider.
283. We will not ask at what age that was. We
have all been there. We have exhausted our questions, are there
any final remarks which any or all of you would like to make to
the Committee this morning?
(Mr Stewart) Scotland led the way on licensing, it
is a shame that it has not led the way on employment of 16-18
year olds in modern apprenticeships in licensed premises. I think
that is a pity because we are in a very progressive industry and
it is sad that we are not developing our labour forces as effectively
as some of our friends in the South are now doing. We are doing
it in the South but are not able to do it in Scotland. There are
issues about regulation and the cost of regulation, particularly
on pubs, that, unless they are addressed, will change social patterns
in Scotland. That is the cumulative effect of the various duties
and legislative impacts that are coming through in the market
and that is to all our disadvantage.
Chairman: Anyone else? No. In that case, can
I thank you all very much for your evidence this morning, it has
been a lengthy, interesting and enjoyable session. You have been
very helpful to the Committee and for that, on behalf of the Committee,
thank you very much.