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High on spirits means low on health

London, Feb. 4: Alcohol is as destructive to health as smoking and high blood pressure, doctors have claimed.

Three international experts said alcohol consumption was linked to more than 60 different medical conditions including breast cancer and heart disease.

Overall, 4 per cent of the global burden of disease was attributable to alcohol, 4.1 per cent to tobacco and 4.4 per cent to high blood pressure, they wrote in the Lancet medical journal. The report was published as pubs, off-licences and clubs across Britain prepare for all-day opening under legislation which will come into force on Monday.

The experts, led by Robin Room, from the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs at Stockholm University, Sweden, assessed the options for alcohol control.

They said studies had shown that raising the price and reducing the availability of alcoholic drinks could lower consumption and save lives.

An estimated 10 per cent increase in alcohol prices in Britain would cut cirrhosis deaths by 7 per cent for men and 8.3 per cent for women, it was claimed. Deaths from all causes explicitly linked to alcohol would fall by 28.8 per cent and 37.4 per cent respectively.

Restricting the hours and days that alcohol can be purchased, and the types of outlets allowed to sell alcohol, also had an impact.

Despite the research showing that controls on alcohol can improve health, governments had ignored the warnings because of the strength of the alcohol industry, the experts said. 'In many places, the interests of the alcohol industry have effectively exercised a veto over policies, making sure that the main emphasis is on ineffective strategies such as education,' Room said.

The government's plans for liberalising Britain's licensing laws have run into problems after senior police officers and opposition politicians warned the changes could encourage binge drinking.

A new survey published today revealed that 62 per cent of rank-and-file police officers do not support extending licensing hours, with 69 per cent saying the changes will lead to more alcohol-related violence.

The study, commissioned for ITV1's Tonight with Trevor McDonald, also revealed that the legislation was opposed by half of the public and nearly two thirds of doctors and nurses. Even 29 per cent of landlords felt extending licensing laws would increase violence.

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