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Health advisor Sadiq Khan calls for definition of harmful gambling

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Dr Tom Coffey, the Mayoral Health Advisor at London Assembly Health Committee today (29th November), stressed that a definition for harmful gambling should be national.

Meetings focused on harmful gambling and its impact on Londoners.

Emma Best, an assembly member, asked him why Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London had “not implemented” his promise to limit gambling advertisements on Transport for London services.

Kahn, in his campaign for reelection, pledged that gambling advertisements would be banned from the London Underground by April 2021.

According to the mayoral advisor, the lack of a clear definition of harmful gambling was a major factor that influenced the decision.

Coffey said that this was similar to Kahn’s ban of junk food advertisements on TFL in February 2019. “That’s what we had when the [ban ]… on high fat, sugar and salt] came into effect, a national consensus on which foods are high in fat, sugar and salt,” explained Coffey. When he was preparing the ban on junk food, he said, “we integrated our advertising ban into the evaluation and used that ban at the same to gather the evidence”.

Coffey stated that the mayor’s office has begun the process to define harmful gambling.

We have now asked the government to create that definition. He said that we asked the public health partners for a definition because “I don’t believe it will stand up in court if I say this is my definition of GLA.” I think that this will fail at the very first hurdle.

Evidence-based Decision Making

Coffey said that this move was certain to be challenged in court. He said that the mayor’s office wanted to make sure its decisions were as solid as possible by using evidence whenever it was feasible.

Coffey said, “We’re making sure that our actions are based on evidence.” We know that we will be challenged in court and want to do things so we can delay and resist the legal challenges.

Coffey, who is a GP as well, said he sees more gambling-related harm during this meeting. He stressed, however, that “more of the time” he speaks to those who are affected, and not just people experiencing harm.

He said, “I see more gambling-related problems.” More often than not, the affected family members will visit me. Rarely will I have a client come to me and say, “I am a gambling addiction, I’m in need of support or help.”

It’s usually family members that are affected by the effects of gambling, whether it’s on a person’s health or their financial and housing situations.

Protecting young people

Sian Griffiths is the deputy chair of GambleAware UK, a charity that aims to prevent gambling-related harm. She also highlighted “the damage on others, especially children”. She also said that restricting advertisements has a positive impact on children.

She said that children are more susceptible to picking up messages the more they’re exposed. It’s because of this that there is an agreement to not advertise at football matches, but only around them.

Marguerite Regan of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities’ gambling department said, “Looking at London in general, there are disparities between those who gamble and those seeking help for harmful gambling.”

She explained: “The statistics which will be released in the coming weeks will look at how many adults in London would benefit from support and treatment.” London is the city with the highest number of cases per 100,000.

The average number of people who need support or treatment is higher, even though the average level of participation was lower.

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