The world continued to bump its way through the covid pandemic, with alcohol playing a fringe role in public discussion, despite inflicting a far heavier death toll than before.
The year ended with the discovery that the US suffered a mystery 26% increase in alcohol-induced deaths last year, according to provisional CDC figures. This is higher than the UK’s 19% and five times the rise in Germany. The unexplained leap is set to be followed by 14% rise this year. The closest thing to an explanation for the US rise is the rise of home delivery.
In November Wales launched the first framework for caring for people with alcoholic brain damage, about 10% of people with dementia. At the same time the alcohol industry boasted that one in five alcoholic drinks in the UK does not include official guidelines, five years after they were introduced.
A lack of adequate labelling partly explains why few Brits know the basic facts about the alcoholic drinks they consume. Just one in five know how many calories are in their alcoholic drinks or know the official low-risk drinking guidelines, a survey found in July.
The UK Budget in October ignored health advice, freezing alcohol tax in 2022. This means prices will fall relative to inflation, so lowering the barriers to deadly levels of drinking despite 2020’s record rise. Tax reforms slated for 2023 were praised, but also leave a loophole for ultra-cheap cider.
There was little positive news for those who might develop alcohol drinking problems. Local government alcohol treatment services have seen their budgets cut by 17% over the last five years, according to Health Foundation figures. Alcohol was not part of its drugs strategy in December.
Not having an alcohol strategy may ultimately prove unpopular, with steps to help to curb future alcohol drinking problems wildly popular among the British public. Three-quarters of Brits want to see curbs on alcohol ads reaching children, an Alcohol Health Alliance survey found in August.
Not having an alcohol policy also runs counter to the government’s goal of “levelling up” society. A third of England’s alcohol deaths were among the most deprived, a Public Health England report said in July. Why, some ask, avoid popular policies and undermine a central manifesto commitment?
The government’s position was first confirmed in April by then health minister Lord Bethell to a parliamentary committee. His wife is a board member of alcohol giant Diageo and Tescos, the biggest UK alcohol retailer. Alcohol Review‘s reporting was followed up by Private Eye. He was removed in September amid controversy over covid contracts.
Among those who might appreciate action to spare media consumers of constant reminders about something we wish to avoid is the newly-sober-curious Queen Elizabeth. In October Vanity Fair reported she is skipping her favoured martinis ahead of her Platinum Jubilee in June.
French footballer Paul Pogba caused a stir in July when he tried to skip endorsing a Heineken-branded alcohol-free beer in a Euro 2020 [sic] press conference. Alcohol Review discovered it may be an option only open to the religious, Alcohol Review , and apparent breach of UN human rights principles.
The end of the covid era may finally be nigh, but only time will tell whether shortcomings that have led to so many more alcohol deaths are corrected or ignored. ■