The ‘Public Health Responsibility Deal’ sends mixed messages on the government’s commitment to improving public health and is unlikely to force the pace of change needed to tackle alcohol abuse in particular.
The British Dental Health Foundation is concerned that the voluntary nature of the pledges to improve public health are soft options and likely to be overlooked in favour of commercial considerations.
With codes for advertising in place for a number of years, studies in Scotland have shown that the alcohol industry completely flaunts the ban on encouraging young people to drink and has sophisticated and costly campaigns to snare the young and encourage binge drinking.
The industry simply has too much at stake and cannot be trusted on these issues with the nation’s health.
The Foundation believes more direct action is needed to force through change and points to the Government’s own statistics on alcohol abuse to justify a different approach to improving public health.
In its recent White Paper – ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for public health in England’ – the Government estimated that alcohol abuse costs the NHS £2.7 billion each year.
Chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, believes the cost in human life is even more disturbing and requires a different approach than proposed in the Public Health Responsibility Deal.
Dr Carter said: ‘The British Dental Health Foundation campaigns ceaselessly to raise awareness of mouth cancer. The disease kills more people than cervical and testicular cancer combined and rates have been increasing over the past decade.
‘Drinking alcohol to excess, especially combined with smoking, can increase the risk of mouth cancer by 30 times and we are concerned that too much trust for improving public health is being placed in the hands of organisations with clear conflicts of interest.
‘While we support the aims and principles of the pledges, and recognise the benefits they will bring to the nation, the risk remains that we will still be talking about taking action in the years to come, rather than celebrating improvements in health. We hope the government will take greater responsibility for public health and drive forward the changes needed.’