Off-licence density linked to alcohol harm in under-18s

Published on Monday, 05 September 2011 09:34
Posted by Scott Buckler

New research commissioned by Alcohol Concern shows a positive link between the density of off-licensed premises and harm from alcohol in underage drinkers


The study One on every corner finds that, excluding London, on average a 2:1 relationship exists between the number off-licences per 100,000 of population and hospital admissions by underage drinkers for alcohol specific admissions such as alcohol poisoning or intoxication. For every two off-licences per 100,000 of population there was one under-18 year old per 100,000 of population being admitted to hospital due to drinking according to the analysis, meaning that on average in areas with a higher concentration of off-licences, there are higher numbers of young people going to hospital as a result of drinking.

Statistical analysis, undertaken by Dr Nikki Coghill at University of West of England, uncovered a moderate but statistically significant relationship across England, excluding London. London has consistently lower levels of consumption than the England average, likely explained by the greater ethnic demographic mix. The findings also suggest that nearly 10% of all alcohol specific hospital admissions for under-18s in England, excluding London, are directly attributable to the concentration of off-licences in a local area. Of the 19,367 children and young people admitted to hospital for alcohol specific reasons between 2006 and 2009, over 1,900 of these admissions could therefore be directly attributable to the number of off-licenses in the young persons area.

In 2009 there were over 49,000 off-licensed premises in England and Wales - an increase of more than 25% over the past 30 years. Off-licence sales are the predominant direct and indirect source of access to alcohol for young people under 18 years old. The report states that the general availability of alcohol through greater number of off-licences may increase the volume of alcohol in the home, as well as friends’ access to alcohol. This also increases the number of opportunities for under-18s to ‘shoulder-tap’, asking someone else to buy alcohol for them outside retail outlets as well as direct underage purchase by minors. This ultimately translates into increased drinking and harms.

The report argues that Government needs to introduce measures that reduce the general availability of alcohol by controlling off licence density and warns that simply relying on better enforcement of existing regulation banning the sale of alcohol to minors may not therefore be enough protection. Although in England councils can set up ‘saturation zones’ in local areas to restrict new licenses, licensees can appeal. There is currently no public health objective on licensing in England, while there is in Scotland.

Alcohol Concern Chief Executive, Don Shenker said:

“It is a sobering thought that the numbers of off-licences in any one area has an impact on under-18s drinking and ending up in hospital. It is a failing of the current system that so many licences are being granted without due consideration to young people’s health.”

“Local licensing committees are currently operating with one arm tied behind their backs. Current licensing legislation does not give licensing committees enough power to restrict high density of licensed premises. A new health objective should be included in the Licensing Act to enable local authorities to refuse new licenses in order reduce alcohol-related harm and protect young people.”

“We also need more research to understand the relationship between off-licence density and alcohol harms and better collection of alcohol harm data to feed into licensing decision-making.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK and Royal College of Physicians special advisor on alcohol said:

This research further underlines the need for a comprehensive alcohol strategy from the government, which tackles the affordability, promotion and the availability of alcohol.”

Source: Alcohol Concern

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