Reducing harm caused by alcohol

News

Alcohol producers failing to inform public

Alcohol brands are failing to inform the public of the drinking guidelines and the health harms linked with alcohol, according to new research.

The research, outlined in a report from the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), looked at the information included on alcohol product labels. It was carried out in May this year, some 15 months after the updated guidelines were launched.

Read the report - Right to know: Are alcohol labels giving consumers the information they need? (pdf)

Researchers found that, of the 315 product labels reviewed across 27 locations in the UK, only one informed the public of the up-to-date low-risk drinking guideline of 14 units a week.

Where labels did contain information on the drinking guidelines, these guidelines were either out-of-date, or were the guidelines for the Republic of Ireland instead of the UK.

In addition, researchers found that no labels contained health warnings of the specific illnesses and diseases linked with alcohol.

The drinking guidelines were announced by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers in January 2016. The guidelines are based on the latest evidence linking alcohol to illnesses like cancer and heart disease, and are designed to enable people to make an informed choice about their drinking.

At present, there are few requirements for what should appear on alcohol product labels. Alcohol producers, under a system of self-regulation, decide what to include.

Releasing their research, the AHA said that tougher rules were needed on alcohol labelling, to make sure alcohol producers inform the public of the health harms linked with their products.

86 support labelling

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the AHA, said:

"There is something seriously wrong with the system when consumers in the UK are more likely to buy a product containing the Irish drinking guidelines rather than the current UK ones.

"Self-regulation has failed. Instead of alcohol producers deciding what to include on labels, the government should now require all labels to contain the latest guidelines and information on the health conditions linked with alcohol.

"Alcohol is linked with over 200 diseases and injury conditions, including cancer, heart disease and liver disease, yet awareness of these links is currently very low. We know, for example, that only 1 in 10 people are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer.

"The public have the right to know about the health impacts of alcohol, so that they are empowered to make informed choices about their drinking."

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:

"This report clearly shows that relying on alcohol producers to communicate health information isn’t working.

"Consumers have the right to know what they’re drinking and the risks associated with alcohol consumption. Regularly drinking above the low-risk guidelines of 14 units per week increases the risk of cancer, stroke, liver disease and mental health problems.

"Manufacturers should be compelled to display prominent health warnings, along with information on ingredients, nutrition and calories on alcohol labels."