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- Australian ministers agree to visible pregnancy warning
- Alcohol policy measures could reduce ambulance callouts
- 18.6% increase in deaths from alcohol in 2020
- Widespread support for calls to increase minimum unit price for alcohol to 65p
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- Health charities call for action to save lives from Scotlands biggest killers
- Three quarters of Scots back new controls to help protect children from alcohol advertising
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- How can alcohol labels be improved to help people make informed consumption choices
- Health experts call for better alcohol labelling
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- Minimum unit pricing has lasting impact study shows
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- Current alcohol labelling of little relevance to young adult drinkers
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- Almost half of Scots in favour of minimum unit pricing
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- Leading health charities call for action in Scotland
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- Health experts call for alcohol labelling overhaul
- Survey shows Scots lockdown drinking rise caused by stress
- Alcohol Focus Scotland welcomes new WHO report on alcohol pricing
- Statistical analysis of off-trade alcohol sales in the year following MUP
- Alcohol Focus Scotland Review of statements of licensing policy 2018 to 2023
- We need to continue long-term focus on alcohol
- Scots report changing drinking patterns during coronavirus lockdown
- Time to Blow the Whistle on Alcohol Sport Sponsorship
- New evidence demonstrates that alcohol ads lead to youth drinking
- Alcohol sales fall in first year of MUP
- First study published into under 18 drinkers post MUP
- Commission on Alcohol Harm calls for evidence
- Two years on Are annual functions reports reaching their potential?
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- Scottish primary children call for action on alcohol
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- Alcohol marketing and children debate in the Scottish Parliament
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- Research into fall in violence
- The Children's Parliament investigates an alcohol-free childhood
- Minimum unit pricing one year on
- More about sales data
- A family of resources it is all about prevention, education and resilience
- AFS publish Review of Licensing Board Annual Functions Reports 2017-2018
- Marketing unmasked dispelling the myths and taking a stand
- No place for alcohol marketing in sport
- Scotland publishes first UK guidelines for diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
- The Alcohol Framework 2018 Preventing Harm
- Scotlands new drug and alcohol strategy launched
- AFS welcome new alcohol strategy
- Recent reporting on alcohol sales data
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- Drinks companies keeping consumers in dark about risky drinking
- Reducing alcohol consumption can address health inequalities
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- AFS welcomes minimum unit pricing for alcohol
- Truer picture of alcohol harm revealed
- Alcohol causes 3,700 deaths in Scotland every year
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- Minimum pricing gets green light
- Alcohol brands and young people
- Time for honest conversations about alcohol
- Q&A on alcohol marketing
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- Alcohol producers failing to inform public
- Concern over alcohol-related deaths
- We need to make it easier for people to drink less
- Worrying rise in alcohol-related deaths
- Minimum pricing will save lives
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- What next for reducing alcohol harm in Scotland?
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- Consumers have the right to know health risks
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- SWA will appeal to UK Supreme Court
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- Minimum pricing can be implemented in Scotland
- AFS welcomes revised alcohol consumption guidelines
- Emergency services face shocking levels of alcohol abuse
- New toolkit to help children affected by family alcohol problems
- Alcohol campaigners unite to call for stronger protection from alcohol advertising to children
- No completely 'safe' level of drinking
- New alcohol guidelines published
- Minimum pricing - European court ruling
- Alcohol: a global concern
No completely 'safe' level of drinking
The UK Chief Medical Officers have just published updated alcohol consumption guidelines, following a two year, expert review of the scientific evidence.
Their guidance makes it clear for the first time that there is no “safe” level of alcohol consumption. Any level of drinking raises the risk of developing a range of cancers including breast, bowel and mouth cancer. Although we have known that alcohol is a carcinogen (cancer causing substance) since the 1980s, the full extent of the link was not recognised in the previous recommended limits which were set out in 1995.
There is also now no justification for recommending drinking on health grounds as previous evidence is likely to have over-estimated the protective effects of alcohol for the heart.
To keep health risks to a low level, men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. Fourteen units is the equivalent of 6 pints of beer, a bottle and a half of wine, or half a bottle of spirits. Drinking should be spread over three days or more during the week to minimise the risk of accidents and injuries associated with heavy drinking sessions, and having several alcohol-free days each week is a good way to cut down.
Those of us concerned about alcohol and public health have welcomed the new guidelines and in particular that attention has been drawn to alcohol-related cancer. Alcohol is responsible for around 12,500 cancer cases a year in the UK, yet only around half of us are aware of the link.
However, the reaction from some quarters says a lot about our skewed relationship with alcohol. The revised guidance has been called “an assault on freedom”, “hyperbolic and puritan”, and “nanny state”. Just because we don’t want to hear that something we enjoy carries health risks doesn’t alter the scientific evidence - there is no completely safe level of alcohol consumption. Imagine the public outrage if the government failed to inform people that a product which is cheap, widely available and constantly promoted also causes cancer, liver damage and cardiovascular disease.
Perhaps this response demonstrates just how normal drinking to excess has become in our society. The health damage is under-estimated or under-played because drinking is so socially acceptable. Alcohol is positioned as an everyday product to be bought and consumed anytime, anywhere. Its toxic, carcinogenic properties are overlooked.
Ultimately – assuming we are not harming anyone else – each of us needs to make up our own minds whether and how much we want to drink. What’s important is that the health risks are clear so we can make an informed choice about the level of risk we are prepared to accept.
Health warnings needed
In order that we can genuinely make an informed choice, the expert group recommended a mass media information campaign. Crucially they also recommended that health warnings should be on all alcohol labels, advertising and sponsorship. This is long overdue. Existing alcohol labels don’t even provide any information about ingredients, never mind warn of the health risks associated with drinking. While some manufacturers have pledged to include more information on product labels, this varies widely and is entirely voluntary.
Of course alcohol manufacturers resist compulsory labelling, but they are out of step with the public on this issue. A recent opinion poll showed 93% of Scots agree it is important to know how alcohol can affect health, and 87% support better alcohol labelling. The government must recognise that the public want to be better informed and introduce compulsory health warnings – this is a consumer rights issue as well as a public health issue.
The reality is that far too many of us are drinking at levels that endanger our health. But the new guidance also means we need to think more broadly about whether our national approach to reducing alcohol consumption is sufficient to the task. The Scottish Government has committed to refreshing its alcohol strategy this year and will want to consider all the options.
The Chief Medical Officers would like to know whether you think their recommendations are clear and easy to understand. You can respond online before 1 April.
Alison Douglas, Chief Executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland