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alcohol health alliance uk

Health advice finally set to appear on alcohol products

Man drinking beer

Man drinking beer

Posted 31/07/19

Alcohol companies have been accused of delaying tactics after a Government deadline finally forced them to include up-to-date health information on their products – over three years after guidelines were introduced.

In the coming months drinkers will start to see Chief Medical Officers’ guidance advising against drinking more than 14 units a week for men and women to stay “low risk”. The advice was published in January 2016 amid growing evidence there is no safe level of consumption and alcohol’s link to several types of cancer.

The alcohol industry was set a deadline by the Government for the removal of out of date health information on products from 1st September 2019. The Portman Group, which is responsible for regulating alcohol packaging, has said its funders will begin to comply “as soon as they feasibly can.” Those funders include global companies such as Carlsberg, Heineken, Bacardi and Diageo, the makers of brands such as Guinness and Smirnoff.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “It has taken over three years of delay tactics and a government deadline to drag some of the major alcohol producers into putting basic health information on their products so that drinkers can at least begin to make an informed choice.

“Despite being aware of the September 2019 deadline since March 2017, the industry chose to wait until the last possible moment to respond to the Government’s deadline. It is clear the Portman Group and its funders could have acted much earlier. They chose not to and, in fact, dropped the guidelines from its voluntary code back in October 2017, effectively keeping people in the dark about how to drink at low risk levels.

He said: “While we're pleased to see the low risk limits, there is some way to go before drinkers are able to make fully informed choices about their consumption. These proposals fail to provide details on calories and ingredients, meaning that shoppers who buy alcohol get less information than when they buy milk or orange juice.

“Surveys show very few people understand the health risks linked to drinking, such as cancer, stroke and heart disease, all of which have increased in recent years, adding more strain on our struggling NHS.

“At the same time as alcohol is harming health and placing a drain on public services, alcohol producers are lobbying furiously for cheaper alcohol and further duty cuts. The current system of alcohol industry self-regulation is failing consumers - we cannot trust these companies to behave in a socially responsible way.”

84% of North East adults support more information on alcohol, including alcohol units. However a survey last year by Balance of 26 big name brand alcohol products in North East supermarkets found that none carried the low-risk weekly drinking guidelines, with some referring to out of date guidelines of 21 units a week.

Research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group found that drinkers consuming more than 14 units a week provide 68% of alcohol industry revenue despite only making up 25% of the population. The researchers concluded that many alcohol producers and retailers may have a strong financial incentive to ensure heavy drinking continues in order to stay profitable.

Over one in four NE adults (26%) are drinking above the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidelines of 14 units a week – around 550,000 people in our region exceeding the guidelines. However 9/10 of those consider themselves to be either “light or moderate” drinkers.