Health warnings on alcohol bottles should be compulsory — MPs

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Health warnings should be compulsory on bottles of wine, beer and spirits to raise awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking and the growing problem of liver disease, a group of MPs has said.

From the Guardian

The recommendation is part of a series of measures put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse to tackle what it says is an epidemic of alcohol abuse in Britain.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, the chair of the group, said people should be as aware of the dangers posed by excessive drinking as they are of the risks associated with smoking. “The facts and figures of the scale of alcohol misuse in the UK speak for themselves: 1.2 million people a year are admitted to hospital due to alcohol; liver disease in those under 30 has more than doubled over the past 10 years; and the cost of alcohol to the economy totals  £21bn. Getting political parties to seriously commit to these 10 measures will be a massive step in tackling the huge public health issue that alcohol is.”

The report, which also recommends a minimum unit price on alcohol, states that although health warnings are prominent on tobacco products, alcohol packaging only outlines alcohol content. “In order to inform consumers about balanced risk, every alcohol label should include an evidence-based health warning as well as describing the product’s nutritional calorific and alcohol content,” it states.

Crouch said alcohol labelling should include written warnings rather than dramatic pictures of diseases associated with alcohol abuse. “It is about raising everyone’s awareness rather than trying to shock anyone into not drinking,” she said.

Labour peer Clive Brooke, vice-chairman of the group, said that after smoking “alcohol is the second biggest preventable killer” in Britain and it was time politicians stood up to the powerful drinks industry.

“Not only does it cost lives but it burdens the NHS and the criminal and justice systems and others with ever increasing costs. All the political parties know that but they run for cover when they are confronted by the drinks industry and its immensely powerful lobby. These proposals give them another chance to consider whether they really have the guts to take a different line for the country’s wellbeing in the future.”

As well as health warnings and a minimum price per unit for alcohol, the report calls for stronger regulation of alcohol marketing, a reduction in the drink-drive limit, the appointment of a single minister responsible for reducing “alcohol harms” and legislation allowing local authorities to make licensing decisions based on “local population health need”.

It claims alcohol abuse in Britain has become a “national pandemic”, causing a health crisis. “Liver disease is the only major disease against which we are not making meaningful progress; over the past 10 years, incidence amongst sufferers aged under 30 has increased by 112%.”

It also finds that alcohol often plays a role in child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, family breakdown and crime and disorder. One fifth of all young callers to ChildLine are worried about drinking by a parent or “other significant person” and 74% of child mistreatment cases in Britain are alcohol-related, it states, adding that the worst affected are those living in the most deprived communities:

“Even though as a group they don’t consume as much alcohol, due to existing health inequalities people in the most deprived areas of the country are disproportionately more likely to suffer the impacts of alcohol-related health conditions, and more likely to die from a condition caused by alcohol consumption.”

However, Crouch said it was just as important to raise awareness among professionals that drinking too much wine after a busy day at work could also cause serious problems.

“We want to make everyone aware of the dangers and help foster a culture of responsibility across the board.”

The report, which was produced jointly by the all-party parliamentary group and Alcohol Concern, will be published on Monday and sent to all three main parties.

Crouch said: “We are hoping that parties will sign up to some or all of these measures in their forthcoming manifestos so we can start to make a serious effort to tackle alcohol abuse in this country.”

Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “We need to tackle this and the significant harmful effects alcohol misuse causes to individuals. I hope all parties will read the manifesto and show a commitment to the vital measures which it highlights.”

The Department of Health said the government’s “responsibility deal”, where companies make voluntary pledges on public health concerns like alcohol abuse, had resulted in commitments to put information on drinks. “We are taking action to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and to give people better information about the impact drinking can have on your health,” it said.

“Through our responsibility deal, the drinks industry has committed to putting unit and health messages on 80% of all bottles and cans. And we have banned alcohol sales below the level of duty plus VAT to tackle the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol.”