Specialists call for cigarette-style health warnings on drinks

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The UK's top liver specialists have called for cigarette-style health warnings to be included on all alcohol packaging.Industry watchdog The Portman...

The UK's top liver specialists have called for cigarette-style health warnings to be included on all alcohol packaging.

Industry watchdog The Portman Group has backed doctors' calls for bottles and cans to clearly display the number of units of alcohol, but is opposed to the kind of health warnings recently introduced on cigarette packets.

The Department of Health has pledged to consider the plan as part of a public health review of current alcohol policy.

More than 4,000 men and women die every year from cirrhosis of the liver. Professor Ian Gilmore, registrar of the Royal College of Physicians, said deceptively strong drinks such as alcopops, and the trend for upsized measures of drinks such as wine, meant people underestimate the amount of alcohol they consume.

He said: "Fifty per cent of our patients with cirrhosis are not alcoholics. They are not dependent on alcohol, but they have advanced liver disease."

The Portman Group chief executive Jean Coussins said: "We don't know of any evidence that putting health warnings on alcoholic drinks has significant effect on behavior."

While there are several drinks manufacturers who voluntarily provide information about units of alcohol on bottles and cans, there is no uniform regulation.

The logistical problem of introducing new labeling in pubs, where the vast majority of alcohol is drunk on draught, remain unresolved and the British Beer & Pub Association said that warnings on labels were not the most effective way to communicate the sensible drinking message.

Eric Appleby, chief executive for Alcohol Concern, added that any change in labelling should be introduced as part of a wider alcohol-awareness initiative.

"We're all for drinkers being given better information," he said. "We'd like to see the number of units displayed on bottles, cans and promotional materials, as this means much more than 'alcohol by volume', accompanied by basic health information regarding the recommended limits set by the chief medical officer."

Proposed warning

The proposed warning would read: "HM Government Health Warning. This product contains x units of alcohol. Consumption of more than 21 units a week for men and 14 units a week for women can damage your health."

Related topics: Healthy options