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News - 24 July 2008
Is that a 250 ml glass?

Voluntary drinks code “isn’t working”.

The government has threatened the drinks industry with tougher legislation limiting the promotion and sale of alcohol, following a report from management consultants KPMG revealing “flagrant breaches of the voluntary code”

The Department of Health commissioned KPMG who found "a disturbing level of irresponsible and harmful practice in significant sections of the industry,"

KPMG used undercover drinkers in a wide variety of venues and they discovered under-18s - particularly girls - being allowed in to clubs and the promotion of heavy drinking by low-price offers and sales to people who were quite clearly too drunk to be served.

They also condemned cocktail names with sexual references, such as Sex on the Beach and Slow Screw Against a Wall, which the voluntary code specifically bans.

The government is now considering revising the code "with a view to making it mandatory in retail premises that sell alcohol".

A new mandatory code is also likely to make pubs and clubs serve wine in small glasses (125 ml) and use standard measures for spirits. It could also restrict happy hours and promotions designed to lure customers into venues early in the evening e.g. “2 for 1” deals and “all drinks £1” promotions. The code would insist that staff were trained and supported to refuse alcohol to underage and drunk customers.

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said the drinks industry voluntarily agreed 10 years ago to label drinks with their alcohol content. But a review of progress published this week showed "disappointing interim results": 43% of products contained no information, and only 3% had all the information required.

Figures on hospital admissions for the whole country, showe excessive drinking was behind 811,000 hospital admissions in 2006 - 6% of the total - against 473,500 in 2002.

Dawn Primarolo said that the accumulating data, "clearly make this the right time to consult on a far tougher approach to the alcohol industry. Around a quarter of the population drink to a harmful level. These people could be drinking themselves into an early grave."

But Home Office minister Tony McNulty showed reluctance to abandon voluntary agreements with the industry. "We now need a new set of standards and over the next few months we will work intensively with industry representatives and other interested groups to breathe new life into the system," he said. "We have also made it quite clear that if necessary we will introduce legislation to make the new standards mandatory."

The British Medical Association called on the government not to pull its punches. Its head of science and ethics Dr Vivienne Nathanson said: "There can be no more softly, softly approach”

Read related items on:
Retail, pubs, clubs and restaurants
Codes of conduct
Department of Health
McNulty, Tony

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