Alcohol firms would lose a staggering £13bn if drinkers in England stuck to limits, study shows

Sean Morrison
Revenue from alcohol sales in England would plummet by £13bn if customers complied with drinking guidelines, a new study shows: Shutterstock

Alcohol firms would lose a staggering £13 billion if all customers complied with the recommended drinking guidelines, according to a powerful new study.

About two-thirds of alcohol sales in England are to heavy drinkers, according to the research.

Drinkers who consume more than the Government's low-risk guideline of 14 units a week make up 25 per cent of the population but provide 68 per cent of alcohol industry revenue, it adds.

The 4 per cent of the population whose drinking is considered harmful - more than 35 units a week for women and more than 50 for men - account for almost a quarter (23 per cent) of revenue.

That’s according to the analysis by researchers at the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and the University of Sheffield's Alcohol Research Group suggests.

The report, published in the journal Addiction, said the findings "raise serious questions about the conflicts of interest inherent to voluntary schemes and self-regulation".

An England fan drinks beer at the FIFA Fan Zone in Volgograd, Russia (EPA)

Researchers calculated that alcohol revenue would decline by two-fifths, or £13 billion, if all drinkers were to comply with the recommended consumption limits.

The study also found that 81 per cent of sales in supermarkets and off-licences are to those drinking above guideline levels compared with 60 per cent in pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants.

Heavy drinkers generate a greater share of revenue for producers of beer (77 per cent), cider (70 per cent) and wine (66 per cent) than spirits (50 per cent).

Aveek Bhattacharya, policy analyst at the IAS and the lead author of the paper, said: "Alcohol causes 24,000 deaths and over 1.1 million hospital admissions each year in England, at a cost of £3.5 billion to the NHS.

"Yet policies to address this harm, like minimum unit pricing and raising alcohol duty, have been resisted at every turn by the alcohol industry. Our analysis suggests this may be because many drinks companies realise that a significant reduction in harmful drinking would be financially ruinous.

"The Government should recognise just how much the industry has to lose from effective alcohol policies, and be more wary of its attempts to derail meaningful action through lobbying and offers of voluntary partnership."

John Timothy, chief executive of the Portman Group, the alcohol industry's self-regulatory marketing body, said: "In the last decade or so binge drinking has fallen by nearly a quarter and alcohol-related violence, drink-driving casualties and acceptance of drinking among children have also fallen significantly.

"Drinks producers have contributed to this decline through their commitment to encouraging moderation through the development of a wide range of low and no-alcohol products and the removal of over one billion units of alcohol from the market.

"These actions have been welcomed by Government and leading charities and the industry will continue to work alongside public and third sector partners to further reduce alcohol-related harms."

The Alcohol Information Partnership industry body said: "Official statistics show alcohol consumption is declining in the UK and more people are choosing to drink moderately.

"We welcome this more mature attitude to drinking and believe targeted support is needed for the specific problems that are causing people and parts of the UK to buck this positive trend."