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UK Parliamentary Group Calls for Health Warnings on Alcohol Labels

The All Party Parliamentary Committee on Alcohol Misuse is calling for several restrictive measures to deal with the “national pandemic” of alcohol abuse in the UK.

The report estimated that alcohol costs the British economy £21bn a year, is responsible for 1.2m people a year being admitted to hospital, and is a factor in approximately half of all violent crime. It says that 1 in 20 UK adults are “dependent” on alcohol – equivalent to 1.6m people – and that a future Alcohol Strategy ought to deal with this type of alcohol misuse, which puts a strain on public services and ends many lives all too prematurely.

The main message was that all alcoholic beverages should include health warnings on their labels. These are a familiar and prominent feature on all tobacco products, and detailed nutritional labelling is ubiquitous on food products and soft drinks, yet consumer information on alcohol usually extends no further than the volume strength and unit content. It argues that beyond liver disease, the public has a low understanding of the problems associated with alcohol, which can be linked to more than 60 different health conditions.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, the chair of the parliamentary group, claimed that “this is about individual education and knowledge… the more information people have, the more they can take individual responsibility for their health.” Such labelling would facilitate consumers making a genuinely informed choice.

As a result, the report argues that every alcohol label should include an evidence-based health warning, as well as describing the product’s nutritional, calorific and alcohol content. Such information, education and awareness campaigns are “vital components of a comprehensive approach to reducing the harm from alcohol.”

Other policies advocated by the group include: a minimum unit price (MUP) to counter the rise of cheap and harmful alcoholic beverages; a reduction in the permitted drink driving limit to more closely align with the rest of Europe; increased funding for treatment of problem drinkers; stronger regulation of alcohol marketing, particularly those with a high exposure to children; and the return of alcohol policy to the portfolio of a single government minister to ensure effective action at the national level.

Alcohol is a severely pressing issue in the UK and more government action is needed in this domain of public welfare. While individuals the right to enjoy alcohol in a responsible manner, the government also has a duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society from its harms. This cross-party report is therefore warmly welcomed.