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alcohol health alliance uk

Alcohol industry misleading consumers about drinking guidelines


Bottles of beer

Posted 09/03/20

Balance is calling for mandatory health information to be included on all alcohol product labels, as a new investigation reveals that alcohol companies are still keeping consumers in the dark.

The call comes as a new investigation by the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) found more than seven in 10 alcohol products on UK shelves are being displayed without the Government’s official guidance to keep drinking to a ‘low risk’ level.

The North East took part in the audit of alcohol product labels, which looked at 424 types of wine, beer and spirits country-wide, and is the largest so far to assess manufacturers' compliance with the new guidelines.

It found that nearly a quarter (24%) of alcohol product labels contained the wrong information, with some falsely claiming men can drink 28 units a week and women 21. Nearly half of products surveyed (47%) did not have any advice at all.

It comes four years after England’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) announced revised guidelines of no more than 14 units a week for men and women, to keep drinking at a low risk level. Only 29% of product labels surveyed contained the correct guidance – often in print too small to easily read.

Action is urgently needed, with the North East experiencing among the worst alcohol harms, alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths. According to Balance’s recent survey, a quarter of North East adults are drinking beyond the recommended weekly guidelines. Two thirds who exceed recommended limits think they are moderate drinkers.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “People have a right to know what is in the drinks they consume, but the findings of this investigation show that alcohol companies are still dragging their feet and displaying potentially harmful advice.

“Alcohol is linked to a wide range of medical conditions, including seven types of cancer, heart disease and strokes. The guidelines were updated four years ago, based on strengthening evidence of the harm it can do to our health – but still we are seeing inaccurate or no information on alcohol product labels. It is only by being aware that people can more informed choices about how much alcohol they choose to drink.

“The majority of North Easterners back the introduction of compulsory health warning labels and want to know what they’re consuming. Along with our partners at the Alcohol Health Alliance, we are urging the Government to intervene and force alcohol companies to display the official guidelines and prominent health warnings on their product labels, in a format that is accessible to consumers.

“There needs to be consequences for those who fail to give consumers the information they need. The alcohol industry cannot be trusted to behave in a socially responsible way, and it is putting profit above people’s health. After all – they’ve had four years to do so. We are encouraging the Government to hold the industry more accountable.”

Notably, the companies which fund the Portman Group, which is responsible for regulating packaging, performed worse than alcohol companies overall.