Skip to main content

Alcohol policy and public health

  • Jason Luty

Alcohol is the most commonly used recreational drug in the world and the third leading cause of preventable death. Alcohol consumption and alcohol problems have increased steadily over the past six decades. Methods likely to reduce alcohol problems (e.g. minimum pricing, restricting licensing hours and increasing the availability of alcohol treatment) tend not to be supported by the drinks industry. Methods favoured by the industry (e.g. public education, industry self-regulation and product warning labelling) are less effective or do not work. The recent history of alcohol policy clearly demonstrates how the financial power of industry can influence governments and undermine effective public health measures, for instance by lobbying, political donations, confusion marketing and creating fnancial vested interests by grants from industry-sponsored 'social aspect organisations'.

Corresponding author
Dr Jason Luty, Borders Health, Borders Addiction Service, The Range, Tweed Road, Galashiels TD1 3EB, UK. Email:
Hide All


• Recognise the overwhelming social, economic and health damage caused by alcohol misuse

• Recognise that measures such as taxation, minimum pricing and reducing availability are some of the most effective means of reducing alcohol problems

• Understand the mechanisms used by the drinks industry and other vested interests that infuence the political process around alcohol regulation



Hide All
American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edn). APA.
Anderson, P, Baumberg, B (2006) Alcohol in Europe. Institute of Alcohol Studies.
Anderson, P (2008) Consulting with the alcohol industry. Drug and Alcohol Review, 27: 463–65.
Anderson, P, Chisholm, D, Fuhr, DC (2009) Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of policies and programmes to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. Lancet, 373: 2234–46.
Babor, TF, Caetano, R, Casswell, S (2003) Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Oxford University Press.
Babor, T, Hall, W, Humphreys, K et al (2013) Who is responsible for the public's health? The role of the alcohol industry in the WHO global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Addiction, 108: 2045–7.
Barnes, E (2013) Minimum-pricing: whisky industry's bid to end the deadlock. The Scotsman, 17 November.
Berridge, V (2013) Demons: Our Changing Attitudes to Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs. Oxford University Press.
Blakely, T, Hales, S, Kieft, C et al (2004) Distribution of risk factors by poverty. In Comparative Quantifcation of Health Risks: Global and Regional Burden of Disease due to Selected Major Risk Factors (eds Ezzati, M, Lopez, AD, Rodgers, A et al). World Health Organization.
Blocker, JS Jr, Fahey, DM, Tyrrell, IR (eds) (2003) Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.
Blum, D (2010) The chemist's war: the little-told story of how the US government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences. Slate, 19 February ( html).
Bosque-Prous, M, Espelt, A, Guitart, AM et al (2014) Association between stricter alcohol advertising regulations and lower hazardous drinking across European countries. Addiction, 109: 1634–43.
Brennan, A, Meng, Y, Holmes, J et al (2014) Potential benefts of minimum pricing for alcohol versus a ban on below cost selling in England 2014. BMJ, 349: 13.
Brown, K (2014) Be fair to us all, George: don't give in to industry by scrapping the alcohol duty escalator. BMJ, 348: 25.
Brown, K (2015) The UK government's relationship with the alcohol industry. BMJ (
Caetano, R, Laranjeira, R (2006) A ‘perfect storm’ in developing countries: economic growth and the alcohol industry. Addiction, 101: 149–52.
Caetano, R (2008) About smoke and mirrors: the alcohol industry and the promotion of science. Addiction, 103: 175–78.
Casswell, S, Thamarangsi, T (2009) Reducing harm from alcohol: call to action. Lancet, 373: 2247–57.
Change4Life (2015) Alcohol Units and Guidelines. Change4Life (
Chan, M (2013) Doctors and the alcohol industry: an unhealthy mix? BMJ, 346: f1889.
Chikritzhs, T, Fillimore, K, Stockwell, T (2009) A healthy dose of skepticism: four good reasons to think again about protective effects of alcohol coronary heart disease. Drug and Alcohol Reviews, 28: 441–4.
Collin, J, Johnson, E, Hill, S (2014) Government support for the alcohol industry: promoting exports, jeopardising global health? BMJ, 348: g3648.
Cook, PJ (2007) Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefts of Alcohol Control. Princeton University Press.
Corrao, G, Rubbiati, L, Bagnardi, V et al (2000) Alcohol and coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis. Addiction, 95: 1505–23.
Crombie, IK, Irvine, L, Elliott, L et al (2007) How do public health policies tackle alcohol-related harm: a review of 12 developed countries. Alcohol, 42: 492–9.
Daily Mail (2013) Alcohol abuse ‘costing Britain £6bn a year’. Daily Mail (10 December 2013) (
Department of Health (2004) Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England. Department of Health.
Department of Health (2008) Safe, Sensible, Social – Consultation on Further Action. Department of Health.
Department of Health (2010) Consultation on Options for Improving Information on the Labels of Alcoholic Drinks to Support Consumers to Make Healthier Choices in the UK. Department of Health.
Department of Health (2013) Living Well for Longer: A Call to Action to Reduce Avoidable Premature Mortality. Department of Health.
Ditter, SM, Elder, RW, Shults, RA et al (2005) Effectiveness of designated driver programs for reducing alcohol-impaired driving: a systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28: 280–7.
Easton, M (2010) The myths of boozed-up Britain. BBC News (8 January 2010) (
Endal, D (2008) Drinks Industry Supplanting Government Role in Alcohol Policies in Sub-Saharan Africa. ADD Resources (–76188.html).
English, DR, Holman, CDJ, Milne, E et al (1995) The Quantifcation of Drug-Caused Morbidity and Mortality in Australia. Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health.
Fillmore, KM, Stockwell, T, Chikritzhs, T et al (2007) Moderate alcohol use and reduced mortality risk: systematic error in prospective studies and new hypotheses. Annals of Epidemiology, 17 (Suppl): S16-23.
Giesbrecht, N (2000) Role of commercial interests in alcohol policies: recent developments in North America. Addiction, 95 (Suppl): 581–95.
Godlee, F (2014a) Alcohol and sport. BMJ, 348: g3869.
Godlee, F (2014b) Minimum alcohol pricing: a shameful episode. BMJ, 348: 110.
Gornall, J (2014a) Under the infuence. BMJ, 348: f7646.
Gornall, J (2014b) Alcohol charities may have been infuenced by funding from industry. BMJ, 348: g4042.
Gornall, J (2014c) World Cup 2014: festival of football or alcohol? BMJ, 348: g3772.
Gornall, J (2014d) Under the infuence: Scotland's battle over alcohol pricing. BMJ, 348: g1274.
Gornall, J (2014e) Is the billion unit pledge just window dressing? BMJ, 348: g3190.
Grant, BF, Colliver, JD National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, et al (1985) US Alcohol Epidemiologic Data Reference Manual (vol 1). US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Hall, W (2005) British drinking: a suitable case for treatment? BMJ, 331: 527–8.
Hill, L (2008) The alcohol industry. In International Encyclopedia of Public Health (eds Heggenhougen, K, Quah, S) Academic Press.
HM Government (2012) The Government's Alcohol Strategy. TSO (The Stationery Office).
Huckle, T, Huakau, J, Sweetsur, P et al (2008) Density of alcohol outlets and teenage drinking: living in an alcogenic environment is associated with higher consumption in a metropolitan setting. Addiction, 103: 1614–21.
Institute of Alcohol Studies (2014) Alcohol, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault. Institute of Alcohol Studies.
ISD Scotland (2011) Alcohol Statistics Scotland 2011. ISD Scotland Publications ( Accessed 22 July 2016.
Jones, L, James, M, Jefferson, T et al (2007) A Review of the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions Delivered in Primary and Secondary Schools to Prevent and/or Reduce Alcohol Use by Young People Under 18 Years Old. NICE.
Kaner, EFS, Beyer, F, Dickinson, HO et al (2007) Effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in primary care populations. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2: CD004148.
Ker, K, Chinnock, P (2006) Interventions in the alcohol server settings for preventing injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2: CD005244.
Lim, SS, Vox, T, Flaxman, AD et al (2012) A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet, 380: 2224–60.
Lyness, SM, McCambridge, J (2014) The alcohol industry, charities and policy infuence in the UK. European Journal of Public Health, 24: 557–61.
Maddox, D (2013) Minimum pricing: Scots go it alone after UK u-turn. The Scotsman (18 July 2013) (–3004593).
Mann, RE, Macdonald, S, Stoduto, LG et al (2001) The effects of introducing or lowering legal per se blood alcohol limits for driving: an international review. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 33: 569–83.
Marin Institute (2008) You Get What You Pay For: California's Alcohol Lobby. Marin Institute.
Mathews, R, Thorn, M, Giorgi, C (2013) Vested interests in addiction research and policy. Is the alcohol industry delaying government action on alcohol health warning labels in Australia? Addiction, 108: 1889–96.
Matthews, S, Richardson, A (2005) Findings from 2003 Offending, Crime and Justice Survey: Alcohol-Related Crime and Disorder . Findings 261. Home Office.
McCambridge, J, Hawkins, B, Holden, C (2014) Vested interests in addiction research and policy. The challenge corporate lobbying poses to reducing society's alcohol problems: insights from UK evidence on minimum unit pricing. Addiction, 109: 199-205.
Meier, P (2008) Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion: Part B. Modelling the Potential Impact of Pricing and Promotion Policies for Alcohol in England: Results from the Sheffeld Alcohol Policy Model. University of Sheffeld (!/fle/PartB.pdf).
Meier, PS, Brennan, A, Purshouse, R (2010) Policy options for alcohol price regulation: the importance of modelling population heterogeneity. Addiction, 105: 383–93.
Meng, Y, Brennan, A, Holmes, J et al (2013) Modelled Income Group-Specifc Impacts of Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing in England 2014/15: Policy Appraisals using New Developments to the Sheffeld Alcohol Policy Model (v2.5). University of Sheffeld (!/fle/julyreport.pdf).
Miller, D, Harkins, C (2010) Corporate strategy, corporate capture. Critical Social Policy, 30: 564–89.
Mokdad, AH, Marks, JS, Stroup, DF et al (2004) Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. JAMA, 291: 1238–45.
Nicholson, S (2016) Why does Scotland still not have minimum pricing? BBC News ( Accessed 27 July 2016.
Office for National Statistics (2013) Statistical Bulletin: Alcohol-Related Deaths in the United Kingdom, 2011. ONS (–01–29).
Okrent, D (2003) Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center. Viking Press.
Parry, C, Myers, B, Thiede, M (2003) The case for an increased tax on alcohol in South Africa. South African Journal of Economics, 71: 266–82.
Petrie, J, Bunn, F, Byrne, G (2007) Parenting programmes for preventing tobacco, alcohol and drug misuse in children <18 years: a systematic review. Health Education Research, 22: 177–91.
Pew Research Centre (2014) America's New Drug Policy Landscape. Pew Research Centre (–02–14%20Drug%20Policy%20Release.pdf).
Prime Minister's Strategy Unit (2003) Strategy Unit Alcohol Harm Reduction Project: Interim Analytical Report. Cabinet Office.
Rabinovich, L, Brutscher, P, De Vries, H et al (2009) The Affordability of Alcoholic Beverages in the European Union. Understanding the Link between Alcohol Affordability, Consumption and Harms. Rand Corporation.
Rehm, J, Patra, J, Popova, S (2006) Alcohol-attributable mortality and potential years of life lost in Canada 2001: implications for prevention and policy. Addiction, 101: 373–84.
Rehm, J, Mathers, C, Popova, S et al (2009) Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders. Lancet, 373: 2223–33.
Richardson, A, Budd, T (2003) Alcohol, Crime and Disorder: A Study of Young Adults. Home Office Research Study 263. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.
Royal College of Physicians (1987) The Medical Consequences of Alcohol Abuse, A Great and Growing Evil. Tavistock Publications.
Sheron, N, Chilcott, F, Matthews, L et al (2014) Impact of minimum price per unit of alcohol on patients with liver disease in the UK. Clinical Medicine, 14: 396-403.
Shults, RA, Elder, RW, Sleet, DA et al (2001) Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 21: 66-88.
Single, E, Robson, L, Xie, X et al (1998) The economic costs of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs in Canada, 1992. Addiction, 93: 991-1006.
Smith, S, Atkin, C, Roznowski, J (2006) Are ‘drink responsibly’ alcohol campaigns strategically ambiguous? Health Communications, 20: 1-11.
Stockwell, T (2014) Minimum unit pricing for alcohol. BMJ, 349: g5617.
Taylor, B, Rehm, J, Room, R et al (2008) Determination of lifetime injury mortality risk in Canada in 2002 by drinking amount per occasion and number of occasions. American Journal of Epidemiology, 168: 1119–25.
Wagenaar, AC, Toomey, TL (2000) Alcohol policy: gaps between legislative action and current research. Contemporary Drug Problems, 27: 681-733.
Wagenaar, AC, Salois, MJ, Komor, KA (2009) Effects of beverage alcohol price and tax levels on drinking: a meta-analysis of 1003 estimates from 112 studies. Addiction, 104: 179–90.
Wells-Parker, E, Bangert-Drowns, R, McMillen, R et al (1995) Final results from a meta-analysis of remedial interventions with DUI offenders. Addiction, 90: 907–26.
World Health Organization (2000) International Guide for Monitoring Alcohol Consumption and Related Harm. WHO.
World Health Organization (2007) Expert Committee on Problems Related to Alcohol Consumption: Second Report. WHO.
World Health Organization (2010) Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol. WHO.
World Health Organization (2014) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014. WHO.
Zeigler, DW (2009) The alcohol industry and trade agreements: a preliminary assessment. Addiction, 104 (suppl 1): 13-26.
Zeigler, D (2013) On delaying a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control: regrettably agreeing but calling for strategic action to accelerate the process. Addiction, 108: 457–9.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

BJPsych Advances
  • ISSN: 2056-4678
  • EISSN: 2056-4686
  • URL: /core/journals/bjpsych-advances
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 21 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 71 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 2nd January 2018 - 20th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Alcohol policy and public health

  • Jason Luty
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *