Put health warnings on alcoholic drinks, say MPs

Published on Monday, 11 August 2014 10:16
Written by Daniel Mason

Alcoholic drinks should come with written health warnings similar to those that appear on tobacco products as part of a drive to tackle a "national crisis", according to a group of MPs.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse said that - along with other measures including the introduction of a minimum unit price and reducing the drink-drive limit - it would help encourage responsible drinking.

In a report, the MPs pointed out that 1.2 million people a year are admitted to hospital due to alcohol, liver disease in those under 30 has doubled in the last 20 years, and the cost of alcohol to the economy totals £21bn.

One person is killed every year by alcohol while liver disease "is the only major disease against which we are not making meaningful progress", they added.

The Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, who chairs the group, said: "There must be a more thorough and full package of measures which tackles the problem more effectively and reduces the costs to people's health of alcohol-related crime and treatment."

Every alcohol product should have a label with an evidence-based health warning, the group proposed.

They said the drink-drive limit should be reduced from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg, in line with most European countries, and police given powers to stop and test drivers without evidence of a specific offence.

And they called for a minimum unit price to "target the products such as super-strength white cider and cheap spirits that are known to be consumed by harmful drinkers and children, without penalising moderate drinkers, including those on low incomes".

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"We are experiencing nothing short of a national crisis in the UK because of alcohol: we need to act now to stop it," the MPs said.

The group's policy suggestions also included making alcohol-related problems the responsibility of a single government minister, strengthening the regulation of advertising, and introducing mandatory training for healthcare professionals in areas such as alcohol-related domestic violence.

"We want to be clear that this manifesto is not designed to end or curtail people's enjoyment of alcohol - many people enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation," Crouch said.

She added: "We accept that not everyone will agree with our proposals, but by publishing what we believe would be welcome policies for any future government to adopt in tackling this issue, we hope to inform and continue the debate on alcohol now and in the future."

In response to the report, the Department of Health said: "We are taking action to reduce alcohol consumption and to give people better information about the impact drinking can have on your health.

"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."

But Ukip's deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, argued proposals to add warning labels to alcohol "go against the grain of a freedom loving country".

"If these killjoys had actually read the statistics coming out of the Health and Social Care Information Centre, they would know that the level of drinking is not a national pandemic, as they breathlessly claim, but on a long term downward trend."

He added: "Of course we should be worried by excessive drinking, but adding health warnings indiscriminately on a bottle of claret seems more about the uglification of society, rather than concern for public health."

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