Alcohol producers fail to tell public of new drinking guidelines

Part of a health warning label.
Part of a health warning label.

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

Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, looked at the information included on alcohol product labels in May this year, 15 months after the updated drinking guidelines were introduced.

Researchers found that, of around 100 beer, wine and spirit product labels reviewed across six locations in the North East, none of the products informed the public of the up-to-date low-risk weekly drinking guideline of 14 units a week.

Where labels did contain information on the drinking guidelines, they were either out-of-date, or for the Republic of Ireland, instead of the UK.

They also found that none of the labels contained health warnings on the specific illnesses and diseases linked with alcohol.

The findings are outlined in a new report by the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), a group of medical royal colleges, alcohol organisations and health bodies, of which Balance is a member.

The updated 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.

Balance is calling for tougher rules on alcohol labelling, to make sure alcohol producers inform the public of the health harms linked with their products.

Colin Shevills, Ddirector of Balance, said: “It’s particularly worrying that some 15 months after the Chief Medical Officers’ recommended drinking guidelines were introduced, we’re yet to see any sign of the latest Government advice appearing on alcohol product labels in the North East.

“The revised guidelines are based on strengthening evidence of the link between alcohol and a wide range of health conditions, even when alcohol is consumed at relatively low levels. Yet awareness of the associated health risks is still very low.

“People have a right to know that alcohol is in the same cancer-causing class as tobacco and linked with over 200 conditions, including cancer, heart disease and liver disease. The guidelines are in place so people have the information they need to make informed choices about how much they drink.

“We know industry self-regulation doesn’t work. The Government needs to take action and introduce tougher rules to ensure the alcohol industry are fully informing the public of the health harms associated with alcohol. This includes introducing compulsory health warning labels on alcohol products and adequately funding mass media campaigns that make clear the health risks people face.

"The majority of North Easterners back the introduction of health warning labels as standard on alcohol products.”

Balance aims to encourage people in the North East to reduce how much alcohol they drink so they can live healthier lives in safer communities.