It is now classified as a group one carcinogen, alongside tobacco and asbestos, yet by a bizarre twist, alcohol is exempt from EU labelling laws
Today saw the publication of a new set of lower risk drinking guidelines by all four UK chief medical officers. The most notable difference between these and the current guidelines is that men have been advised to cut down their weekly intake to no more than 14 units the equivalent of half a bottle of whisky. This brings the recommendations for men in line with those for women.
Such advice will undoubtedly be met with wild accusations of state nannying from the usual libertarian camps. Yet these guidelines do not restrict behaviour but rather empower the public to take control of our health.
Some of the impetus for revising the drinking guidelines came from emerging evidence about the link between alcohol and cancer. The World Health Organisation now classifies alcohol as a group one carcinogen, alongside tobacco and asbestos. However, public opinion polls show that half of Britons dont associate the nations favourite drug with cancer, which makes the case for publicising this relationship even more urgent. This is an issue of consumer rights: every drinker has the right to know and the government has a duty to inform them about the health risks associated with alcohol.
These new guidelines are purely a tool to enable drinkers to make fully informed decisions about their health. But its up to the government to ensure the message is carried loud and clear to the majority of Brits who regularly drink. The most obvious place to start would be to label alcohol products with clear, legible information that is easy to see and understand.
At present there are no mandatory requirements for alcohol labels. In fact, in a bizarre twist of EU legislation, alcohol is exempt from the labelling regulations that require ingredients listings and calorie information on all other food and drink. Consequently, consumers get more information about the contents of a pack of chewing gum than they do for a bottle of wine: a psychoactive, carcinogenic and addictive substance.
Unsurprisingly, voluntary commitments by alcohol producers to label their products with health information have not proven to be effective. A recent evaluation of the governments responsibility deal with alcohol companies showed that less than half of those who committed to provide clear unit information and pregnancy warnings did so even under their own definition of best practice. And surely no one would expect any manufacturer to associate their product with the C-word voluntarily.
Consumers need clear, independent advice on health risks. The government cannot continue to rely on the drinks industry to act as chief messenger to the public. Weve seen this approach fail miserably with tobacco companies who, like the global alcohol producers, have a clear vested interest in thwarting attempts to reduce harmful consumption of their products. Why else would leading spirits manufacturers take the Scottish government to court to try to stop the introduction of minimum unit pricing a policy that promises to save thousands of lives by reducing consumption among the heaviest drinkers? Given that minimum pricing will largely target harmful drinkers, one could question just how much the alcohol producers rely on this group to make a profit.
The public deserve to be given a better chance at making healthier choices. Were performing poorly against our European neighbours when it comes to alcohol-induced ill-health and, as research by the Nuffield Trust showed recently, our NHS is struggling to cope with increasing hospital admissions due to alcohol. The NHS has called for a radical upgrade in prevention and public health, and prevention needs to become a priority for this government.
A recent report from the World Cancer Research Fund indicates that 33% of cancer cases in the UK could be avoided if we modified certain lifestyle behaviours, including reducing our alcohol intake. However, we cant expect people to take control of their wellbeing and make healthy choices unless we equip them with the power to do so. Its time we were all told the truth about alcohol.
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us