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ABSTRACT

When the Labour government came to power in the UK in 1997, it took over high and rising levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. Contrary to ‘old Labour’'s views on alcohol policy, New Labour did nothing to reverse this trend, and, if anything, exacerbated it. Since New Labour has been in power, alcohol has become 40% more affordable; consumption has increased by 14% and alcohol-related deaths have increased by over 40%. New Labour viewed alcohol-related harm as a question of individual responsibility and, as expressed in its long awaited 2004 alcohol harm reduction strategy (commonly known as AHRSE), viewed partnerships with the alcohol industry as the solution to reducing harm. Ten years on we have safe, sensible and social, the 3Ss, AHRSE's next steps. On first reading it would seem that the government has learnt nothing from its mistakes of the previous ten years, and in its approach to alcohol policy continues to disable the public interest. Nevertheless, there remain areas where science might inform policy, including health sector policy where there is an emphasis on early diagnosis and treatment, and transport policy, where reducing the legal blood alcohol level to the European Commission maximum recommended level of 0.5g/L is again on the agenda. The 3Ss propose an independent review of the evidence of the relationship between alcohol price, promotion and harm. However, unless this fully reviews the international evidence of the relationship between the economic and physical availability of alcohol, the marketing of alcohol and alcohol related harm, AHRSE and its successor will continue to be a recipe for ineffectiveness.