The graphic health warnings consumers are seeing on tobacco products are proving to be effective. However, alcohol remains one of the leading causes of serious illness across the world, which begs the question: Should alcohol manufacturers be required to put similar warnings on their products?
According to a leading public health body; they should be. According to a new report from the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH), putting health warnings on bottles and cans of alcohol would make it clear to consumers that these products come with significant health risks. The warnings would include the problems associated with exceeding the recommended limits and for drivers and pregnant women.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH said “Having a drink with friends or family is something many of us enjoy. However, the potential health consequences of alcohol consumption are more serious than many people realize. If and when people choose to drink, they have the right to do so with full knowledge of both what their drink contains and the effects it could have.”
“Consumer health information and warnings are now mandatory and readily available on most products from tobacco to food and soft drinks, but alcohol continues to lag behind. If we are to raise awareness and reduce alcohol harm, this must change. As Britain exits the EU, we ask that any additional regulatory freedom be used to strengthen that contribution – not to diminish it.”
According to the report, very few people are aware of the new alcohol limits that have been set out by the government. Chief medical officer for England Sally Davis set out the new recommendations, which have now changed to 14 units per week for men and women. Health groups argue that failure to warn the public could be putting them at risk and that companies have a responsibility to encourage consumers to drink alcohol responsibly.
The RSPH wants health warnings on alcohol to be mandatory across the industry. They noted that the 14 unit a week guideline should be clear on the label, and that the inclusion of graphic images warning of alcohol related disease like cancer and liver disease could help to discourage individuals from excessive drinking.
The group said they would also like to see drink-drive warnings, along with calorie information which could discourage some young people from binge drinking. Research has previously suggested that if young people knew the calorie content of some drinks it could mean a 20% shift toward lower strength alcohol.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: ‘It is clear from this research that the public want labels to include the drinking guidelines, and we know from our own research that 81 per cent of the public want to see the guidelines on labels. ‘Alcohol is linked with over 200 disease and injury conditions, including heart disease, liver disease and at least seven types of cancer. We all have a right to know the drinking guidelines, along with the risks associated with alcohol, so that we are empowered to make informed choices about our drinking.’