144. The health consequences of alcohol consumption
formed part of our investigation, as did the health implications
of soft drinks consumption. We acknowledge that the amount of
evidence taken was modest. The great majority of Scots drink sensibly.
Evidence from the Greater Glasgow Health Board
illustrated the extent of the problems that can however be caused
by excessive drinking. In Glasgow, problem drinking is responsible
for between 20 to 30 per cent of acute hospital admissions; general
practitioners see around 4,700 people with severe drinking problems
every month. The problem is not of course confined to Glasgow.
Similar difficulties occur across Scotland. The health experts
who gave oral evidence stressed the link between excess drinking
and social deprivation; problem drinking is probably higher in
Glasgow because of the very high levels of deprivation found in
parts of the city.
145. The tendency to drink to excess was not believed
to be genetic. There is little evidence of an "alcoholic
personality". Over-consumption is rooted in social reasons,
A number of psychological and cultural factors were thought to
explain the condition. One witness told us that individuals tend
to drink too much when they their lives are stressful;
getting drunk is a way of relieving stress. Dr Plant of the Alcohol
and Health Research Centre explained that Scotland had a tradition
of "binge drinking".
The occasional bout of this type of behaviour may be reasonably
harmless, but when it is related to drinking in order to try and
relieve stress it can lead to long term problems.
146. Dr Plant noted an increasing trend towards drinking
more during the week. This was due, especially among the middle
classes, to a greater "Europeanisation" of drinking
habits. More people now drink alcohol, especially wine, with food.
Relative to income alcohol has decreased in price. Young people
are now drinking dangerously at an earlier age.
This has led to an increase in the number of health problems associated
with alcohol. Dr Gruer of the Greater Glasgow Health Board
pointed to a rise in cases of cirrhosis of the liver, and that
the incidence of this disease in the UK was now approaching the
levels traditionally seen in continental Europe.
Paradoxically, there was little investment in alcohol treatment
147. The alcoholic drinks industry is concerned about
misuse of its products and promotes sensible drinking.
The Portman Group is an independent organisation of alcoholic
drinks producers whose aim is to combat alcohol misuse and under-age
drinking, using a variety of initiatives, including proof of age
During oral evidence the SWA were asked to comment on the suggestion
that some proportion of excise duty should be hypothecated to
deal with alcohol misuse. It said:
"... that is a matter
for Government ... [who] ... get large sums of money from taxes
and it is up to them how they spend it".
148. We came across little or no evidence of the
effectiveness of the Portman Group during our study. This maybe
a result of relative modesty. On the other hand it could lead
to the conclusion being drawn that, given the profits that are
available to alcoholic drinks manufacturers, more might be done
by the industry to help overcome some of the increasing problems
associated with the use and misuse of the product. In contrast
to the amounts spent on advertising by alcoholic drinks producers,
Dr Gruer estimated that GGHB spends less than £100,000 per
year on alcohol-related health promotion and received virtually
no specific money for anti-alcohol advertising.
With alcohol consumption patterns changing and growing, particularly
amongst the young, we believe that more funding should be made
available from both the industry and Government to enable increased
availability of measures aimed at preventing and curing misuse.
149. We referred earlier to the fact that the big
companies producing alcoholic drinks are engaged in a fiercely
competitive global market. One of their most significant weapons
was advertising. Unlike other drugs, alcohol is an integral part
of our culture,
associated with pleasure and socialisation. While advertising
of alcohol undoubtedly contributes to this outlook, it is difficult
to argue that it causes it.
150. Health witnesses pointed to evidence that high
levels of advertising did not cause people to drink more.
Advertising may cause people to switch brands, but there was no
clear evidence that it increased the overall level of consumption
or the type of alcohol consumed. It is therefore difficult to
argue that the increased intensity of competition in the drinks
industry has led companies to behave irresponsibly.
151. Some of the problems we have identified relate
to devolved matters and fall within the responsibility of the
Scottish Executive. But we would urge the Scottish Executive fully
to recognise the current trends in alcohol misuse and to take
152. Health worries were also raised in connection
with soft drinks. The Chief Dental Officer for Scotland said that
soft drinks, especially when consumed by the young are a major
issue in this field. He argued that soft drinks "now constitute
one of the main sources of drinks for young children and are being
used in younger and younger children, as young as one or two years
of age". He noted that the average soft drink contains the
equivalent of between six and eight teaspoons of sugar and that
this, in addition to their acidic nature, makes them "perfectly
designed to either rot or erode teeth".
The easy availability of soft drinks in schools and other public
places, with no warning about the potential damage to dental health
Mr Barr confirmed categorically that additional sugar was not
added to soft drinks produced for the Scottish market in order
to satisfy the collective sweet tooth there.
153. The Chief Dental Officer also expressed concern
about additives such as caffeine, which may contribute to the
addictive nature of soft drinks. The Food Standards Agency Scotland
recently undertook a consultation exercise on a proposal for EU
legislation on labelling of foods containing caffeine and quinine.
The proposals, if accepted, would require that these ingredients
were declared when used as a flavouring. A label statement of
"high caffeine content" would also be required, along
with the exact amount of the additive above a given level. A decision
on the proposals by the EU may come in December 2001.
154. We note here that evidence submitted by the
British Soft Drinks Association showed that, on a population basis,
Scots consumed proportionately more soft drinks than the rest
of the UK.
The concerns raised by the Chief Dental Officer, particularly
with regard to the increased use of soft drinks by very young
children, leads us to recommend that a fuller indication of the
composition of soft drinks should be made available to consumers.
Parents and consumers should know on an easy to understand basis,
such as the number of spoonfuls per container, the exact sugar
content of soft drinks. This information should be placed on the
container. Consideration should also be given to a specific dental
health warning. In addition, we support the EU proposals that
labels for soft drinks should say so specifically when caffeine
has been used.
199 Greater Glasgow Health Board, Alcohol Strategy 2000. Back
114-iv, Session 2000-01, Q.633. Back
973-ii, Session 1999-2000, Q.185; HC 114-i, Session 2000-2001,
Q.280; HC 114-ii, Session 2000-01, Q.359. Back
Q.185; Ibid, Q.280. Back
114-iv, Session 2000-01, Q.651. Back
114-v, Session 2001-01, p.255-256. Back
212 Ibid. Back
973-i, Session 1999-2000, Q.57. Back
Proposals for EU Legislation on Labelling of Foods Containing
Caffeine and Quinine, www.foodstandards.gov.uk/consultations/scotland. Back
973-i, Session 1999-2000, p.1, para 3. Back