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Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said:

“Today’s figures continue the highly welcome long-term trend for falling alcohol related accidents and casualties on the road. However, each death is a tragedy and we remain cautious about over-emphasising the lowest overall figures on record given the impact of COVID-19 in 2020 resulting in fewer journeys by car.

“We are supportive of the THINK! campaign by DfT and we are also pleased to see the investment by the sector in campaigns to discourage drink driving as well as Drinkaware’s work. Equally there has been huge innovation in developing high quality no alcohol alternatives that support designated drivers in their choice not to drink while still enjoying a night out. Our recent study commissioned by YouGov found that the most popular reason for consumers to try low and no alcohol is ‘being able to drive home from social events’ which should continue to help people stay within the limits in the future.”

Source: Portman Group Research, January 2022, Consumer Views on Low and No Alcohol products 2021

One in three UK drinkers now regularly choose low or no alcohol products

UK drinkers increasingly choose low and no alcohol products all year round and not just for Dry January, the fourth annual online study YouGov commissioned by the Portman Group has found.

Almost one in three (32%) UK drinkers now ‘semi-regularly’* consume low and no alcohol products compared to one in four (25%) in 2020. Furthermore, a fifth (20%) of those who have tried low and no alcohol say they are more likely to drink these products now compared to a year ago, almost double the number saying this in last year’s survey (11%).

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the most popular reason for consumers who have tried low and no alcohol to drink these products continues to be ‘being able to drive home from social events’ (chosen by 33% of respondents). Reducing the possibility of health concerns or current medical reasons were also cited by 22% of consumers**. The other main reason is to socialise without drinking excessively with 20% of respondents, whilst 12% explicitly stated they currently alternated low and no products with regular strength alcohol to moderate their overall consumption.

Furthermore, the survey shows that over a quarter (26%) of those who have tried low and no alcohol say that their subsequent weekly alcohol has decreased since they first tried it. These results indicate that low and no alcohol could be an effective tool for people looking to moderate drinking, often whilst at home with COVID-19 remaining an ongoing concern.

It should be noted that alcohol drinkers are the main buyers of non-alcoholic products using them as alternatives to alcohol. Well over half (58%) of non-drinkers have never even tried a low/no product and just 14% are semi-regular* consumers.

Across the UK there were increases in the number of low and no consumers. Welsh drinkers top the chart as most likely to be semi-regular* low/no drinkers, with a large jump to a third (36%) of respondents compared to less than a quarter (22%) in 2020. English consumers come in at 32% up from 25%. 29% of Scottish consumers are semi-regular* drinkers, up from 27%.

In response to the figures, Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said: “As these positive findings show, there has been a big increase in drinking low and no during the pandemic, indicating that many UK drinkers have looked to moderate their alcohol consumption by swapping with non-alcoholic options. These figures show the fruits of large industry innovation and investment into the sector over the past decade to provide consumers with an array of lower alcohol options.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The 2021 survey was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Portman Group. Fieldwork was undertaken on 9th-10th December 2021 and involved a total sample size of 2,079 adults. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

In the 2020 survey, the total sample size was 2100 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th – 15th December 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

ENDS

* Use of the term ‘semi-regular drinkers’ refers to those who either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ drink low and no alcohol products.

** This includes those looking to reduce the possibility of short-term physical health problems (e.g. hangovers) (12%); reduce the possibility of long-term physical health problems (e.g. alcoholic liver disease) (11%), and those citing ‘illness / medical reasons’ (8%).

Northern Ireland is not included in these findings due to the sample size being too small.

UK Government changes how it tracks alcohol health trends as drinking rates fall

The Portman Group welcomes the UK Government’s announcement that it has implemented an update to its use of alcohol-attributable fractions (AAFs). If you haven’t heard of them before, an AAF denotes the proportion of disease cases which are estimated to have been caused by alcohol. The change in the calculation impacts how alcohol-related mortality and hospital admissions in England are calculated. This change has been made as the result of persistent falls in the levels of drinking across the population as the latest evidence suggest that the majority of AAFs are smaller than previously thought. Down by ¼

This led PHE to conclude that “currently published rates are too high and if LAPE [Local Alcohol Profiles for England] were to continue producing statistics using the older AAFs then this inaccuracy would continue and indeed worsen over time.”

PHE said updating its methodology to account for declining alcohol consumption across the population, as well as harmful drinking patterns such as binge drinking, would result in current estimates of alcohol-related deaths and admissions being lowered by around a quarter.

The Portman Group feels that it is important that PHE makes clear that it is changing its methodology to account for positive behaviour change amongst the general population, whilst also recognising the harm that alcohol misuse can cause to individuals remains unchanged.

Implementing the new methodology in the latest Local Alcohol Profiles for England has meant that:

  • Estimated alcohol-related deaths across England for 2018 have been lowered by around 5,700. This equates to around 23% of deaths previously estimated and lowered the death rate per 100,000 for 2018 from 46.5 to 35.8.
  • Estimated hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions (narrow) for 2018 have been lowered by around 83,000. This equates to around 23% of admissions previously estimated and lowered the rate per 100,000 for 2018 from 664 to 512.
  • Estimated hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions (broad) for 2018 have been lowered by around 320,000. This equates to around 25% of admissions previously estimated and lowered the rate per 100,000 for 2018 from 2,367 to 1,766.
  • However, whilst the rates have been lowered, it is important to note that the direction of the trend in rates since 2016 for mortality and admissions remains unchanged, showing the relative stasis in mortality and increase in admissions evident before the revision, which continue in the latest statistics released for 2019.

As an evidence-based body, we support the change which is based on new data. It will present a more accurate picture and will take into account over a decade of progress of tackling many areas of alcohol-related harm, though recognise the consecutive increase in alcohol-related admissions in recent years shows there is much more to do.

We also welcome that the update to methodology will be backdated to 2016, to allow for a more accurate long-term view of trends.

We believe this update is especially important as it will allow policymakers to make better informed decisions and help to more effectively target policies towards those drinking at the heaviest and most harmful rates.

Taking this forward

The Government will apply this updated methodology to wider estimates of alcohol-related harm based on these calculations (i.e., previous PHE estimates on the economic cost of alcohol misuse).

Public Health England collaborates with colleagues across the UK and we hope will encourage public health authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to also update their own estimates of alcohol-related harm, taking account of declining trends in harm across the whole of the UK.

Overall, this consultation has been welcome chance for the Government to take ownership of over a decade of progress in tackling alcohol misuse, as the UK increasingly becomes a nation of moderate drinkers.

Read more

Office for Health Improvement and Disparities blog explains the new estimates on deaths and hospital admissions caused by alcohol – here.

Previous blog write up on our consultation response April 2021 – here.

Consultation response in full April 2021 – here.

Statement on OECD report on alcohol consumption in the UK

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“Overall, the results of this report reflect the wealth of research conducted throughout the pandemic that most people did not change how much they drank, supporting our most recent research which showed 73% of UK drinkers had consumed the same or less alcohol as before COVID-19.

“We are concerned by some of the figures relating to the UK and the policy recommendations suggested as a consequence, our focus should be targeted on the small number of people drinking at the highest levels of alcohol harm. On sales, the OECD points only to duty receipts to say that sales increased without taking into account real life sales data. Euromonitor data shows alcohol sales in the UK fell by over 10%, the second highest fall in Europe, which supports the trend seen by Public Health Scotland that alcohol sales fell overall in both Scotland and England.

“The assertions made surrounding reduced alcohol consumption and efficacy of the vaccine are particularly concerning. The MHRA confirmed that alcohol has no bearing on the vaccine’s effectiveness and any suggestions to the contrary could have damaging effects on vaccine uptake.”

Statement on ONS data regarding alcohol-specific deaths

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“The ONS figures are tragic and highlight the devastating impact the past year has had on those drinking at the most harmful rates. The reasons for this are complex and likely exacerbated by pandemic restrictions which may have cut off social and professional support or deterred people from seeking help in the first instance. We call for increased targeted support for those struggling with their relationship with alcohol to ensure that the effects of this year are not compounded in the future.”

Response to Kings College London study on increased drinking among 55-74 year olds

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“This is yet another study that shows the majority of UK consumers, including baby boomers, drank responsibly throughout the pandemic. The sample shows a positive increase in the number who were drinking at lower levels and an appreciable decrease in those who reported hazardous or harmful drinking. However, the findings reinforce the incredibly concerning pattern that a small number of people drinking at the highest level of alcohol harm appear to have further increased their drinking. Emerging from lockdown our focus should be targeted on these vulnerable adults, and look at finding support for the complex, multifaceted issues which they face. As such we support the call from the researchers to consider how to further develop support for older people with alcohol use disorders.”

Statement on indoor hospitality reopening in the UK

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“We are delighted to see pubs, bars and restaurants fully reopen after such a difficult time for the hospitality sector. The lockdowns have been a challenge to us all, and the anticipation for friends and families to finally gather inside a pub makes us realise how important social contact is to our emotional wellbeing.

“Throughout the COVID-19 restrictions, over 33 pieces of research and analysis show that the moderate majority continued to drink responsibly, at either the same or less as they did pre-pandemic. Additionally, our research on hospitality reopening showed that almost three in four (86%) of UK drinkers intended to drink the same or less when pubs reopened suggesting that most responsible people will continue to moderate their drinking.

“Despite this, we recognise the devastating impact the past year has had on those drinking at the most harmful rates with many not being able to access the social and professional support they need. We call for targeted and appropriate measures to support those struggling with their relationship with alcohol.”

Speaking about the ONS report on alcohol-specific deaths, Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK commented:

“The ONS figures are tragic and highlight the devastating impact the past year has had on those drinking at the most harmful rates. The reasons for this are complex and likely exacerbated by pandemic restrictions which may have cut off social and professional support or deterred people from seeking help in the first instance. We call for increased targeted support for those struggling with their relationship with alcohol to ensure that the effects of this year are not compounded in the future.”

Response to Cardiff University study on the price of food influencing alcohol sales

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“This study shows us what we already know, that UK consumers are price-conscious, and spend to a budget when buying their shopping. This should not be used by the authors as a basis to advocate extreme measures which punish the moderate majority of UK drinkers, especially less well-off consumers, at a time when the UK overall is drinking less and many alcohol harms are falling. We believe that targeted measures which help those who drink to harmful levels are a more effective solution.”

Response to the Department of Health’s proposed plans to change alcohol labelling laws

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“The alcohol industry is committed to giving consumers detailed information to help them make well-informed decisions about drinking. We welcome this consultation and its aims. However, we are very concerned about plans for a new set of mandatory regulations. The industry, particularly small businesses, has been hit very hard by COVID-19. It can ill afford the further financial burden of costly mandatory labelling changes.

“We are committed to working in partnership with the Government. Over the past two decades there has been a significant decline in binge-drinking, alcohol-related violence, drink-driving and underage drinking. We have shown time and time again that the voluntary approach works. It will deliver the result we all want to see, faster, more effectively and without extra costs to a sector is already struggling due to the necessary closure of hospitality.”