Evelyn Gillan: Drinks industry must turn volume down

The hard selling of alcohol has changed our drinking. Picture: PA
The hard selling of alcohol has changed our drinking. Picture: PA
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It’s not so long ago that a glass of wine would typically be served in a 125ml measure and the alcohol content would be eight or nine per cent abv.

Both the size of the measure poured and strength of wine have crept up over the years, so it’s now the norm to be served a glass containing a third of a bottle at 13 per cent abv.

This makes it really difficult for people to keep track of how much they are drinking.

Some bars print the unit content on their wine lists which is useful, but only if you understand what a unit is and what the low-risk consumption limits are. To minimise the risk to health, doctors advise women should drink no more than 14 units a week, and men no more than 21 units a week. We all need at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Drinking just one large glass of wine can put a woman over the recommended daily limit. Over a week, women should drink less than a bottle and a half of wine to minimise the risk to their health.

Bars make more money from selling larger glasses of wine, so “upselling” from a small glass to a large one, or a large glass to a bottle, has become common practice. We would like to see 125ml served as standard in all bars.

However, far more wine is sold by supermarkets and off-licences than pubs, with price being a major factor in the switch to home drinking. At home, we’re likely to pour generous measures and it’s easy to think “I’ll just finish the bottle” rather than saving it for another evening.

This 125ml initiative is helpful in raising awareness among consumers, but it’s very difficult to persuade people to drink less when the alcohol industry spends millions of pounds telling us to drink more.

We are surrounded by alcohol promotions from a very early age on TV, online, in shops, on billboards, at the football, at concerts, at the cinema and so on. There is now greater availability of alcohol through more and bigger capacity supermarkets and pubs with extended trading hours.

Add in the fact that alcohol is more affordable than ever before and it’s no wonder we have seen such a substantial rise in alcohol consumption and harm. Although there has been a drop in consumption over the past few years, it remains at historically high levels.

So how can we turn this around? Evidence shows that controls on price and availability are two of the most effective ways to reduce overall alcohol consumption and in turn, alcohol-related harm. Minimum unit pricing, which has been delayed by a legal challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association, will cut hospital admissions, cut crime and save lives. This needs to be introduced as soon as possible to make a genuine difference to alcohol consumption and harm in Scotland.

• Dr Evelyn Gillan is chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland