Alcohol guidelines slammed: boozing ‘no more dangerous than driving car’

By Daniel Woolfson & James Evison

- Last updated on GMT

Dame Sally Davies: Guidelines to assess risk not 'prevent people drinking' if choose to do so
Dame Sally Davies: Guidelines to assess risk not 'prevent people drinking' if choose to do so

Related tags Chief executive Alcoholic beverage

Drinking guidelines have been slammed as the pub industry has responded to the government’s consultation on the issue.

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies released an additional introductory text to the guidelines this week, which outlines the risks of alcohol consumption, and states the intention was not to ‘prevent those who want to drink alcohol from doing so.’

Specifically, the introduction makes reference to drinking being alongside ‘everyday activities’ we need to live and for which we take risks, like driving cars, and moves away from the more confrontational language used in January, such as assessing the risk of developing cancer every time you drink a glass of wine.


The report reads​: “This advice on regular drinking is based on the evidence that if people drink at or above the low risk level advised, overall any protective effect from alcohol on deaths is cancelled out and the risk of dying from an alcohol-related condition would then be expected to be at least 1% over a lifetime. This level of risk is comparable to those posed by other everyday activities that people understand are not completely safe yet still undertake.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), said the ALMR welcomed the Government’s move away from the line that any level of consumption is harmful.

However, she said: “It was a misleading proposition and did not reflect research to the contrary, or take into account the well-being gained from the socialising aspect of responsible, supervised drinking.”


But she added, that moderate drinking was still defined as unsafe still had the potential to dissuade members of the public from taking guidelines seriously.

“Whilst trying to achieve clarification, remaining imprecision and inelegance creates a worrying position whereby customers may still ignore them altogether,” she said.

“Other changes are largely semantic. Clarity is always welcome but the guidance still leaves responsible drinkers no better informed of how their consumption compares to other lifestyle choices; the sort of activities that inform their behaviours.”


The original guidelines were published in January and called for an equal level for men and women at 14 units a week.

This would be the same level for women as previously recommended, but would see men’s allocation dropping from 21 units.

Criticism of the methodology behind the new guidelines was immediate when the recommendation was made earlier this year as claims were produced stating there was ‘no safe level’ of drinking.

Brigid Simmons, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), said: "This guidance fails the 'common sense test' and doesn't provide consumers with a fully objective picture, given that so many studies have shown that moderate drinking can form part of a healthy lifestyle.

"Ultimately this makes it harder to engage with consumers to encourage responsible drinking."


Denis O’Flynn, managing director of Pernod Ricard UK, said it was alarming that guidelines still contained a reference to ‘a no safe level of alcohol’ which did not take international and domestic evidence into account.

He said: “This will have significant ramifications with regards to our voluntary and proactive approach as per the [Public Health Responsibility Deal] and we will have to reconsider how we communicate to our consumers.”


Echoing O’Flynn’s statement, Portman Group chief executive Henry Ashworth said: “Although the CMOs have provided much needed clarity that responsible drinking carries a level of risk no greater than other day-to-day activities, it is regrettable that the guidelines still include a reference to the Guidelines Development Group (GDG)’s view that there is no safe level of drinking.

Placed alongside low risk guidelines, this message – which he said had been consistently advocated by GDG members with widely-reported temperance interests – could render the CMOs’ advice ‘confusing and contradictory’, he said.


And a statement from the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) warned: “The guidelines would have been strengthened by a more balanced representation of the available scientific evidence.

“In failing to present the scientific evidence in a balanced way, the recommendations run the risk of confusing rather than accurately informing the public.”

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