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Government alcohol ad ‘scaremongering’

New UK government guidelines warning that drinking two large glasses of wine a day triples the risk of mouth cancer are 'scaremongering’' an influential alcohol lobby group claims.

A TV advert launched yesterday claims that regularly drinking around two large glasses of wine or two strong pints of beer a day triple the risk of developing mouth cancer and double the risk of developing high blood pressure.

In the advert cartoon figures (pictured) swig wine and beer while a voiceover warns, ‘apparently two large glasses of wine or more a day could make me three times more likely to get mouth cancer.’

The Department of Health, which runs the campaign under its Change4Life initiative, said it is prompted by a survey of more than 2,000 people which found significant percentages of people do not realise that drinking over recommended limits increases the health risks such as developing mouth, throat and neck cancer, decreasing fertility and high blood pressure.

Senior health professionals are behind the campaign: Sarah Lyness, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK said, ‘Alcohol can increase the risk of seven types of cancer, including two of the commonest kinds – breast and bowel cancers. And a recent study showed that nearly 12,500 cancers in the UK each year are caused by alcohol.

‘The more people cut back on alcohol, the more they can reduce the risk.’

But a spokesperson for Alcohol In Moderation, a group which promotes responsible drinking and is made up of more than 40 senior health professionals from universities and medical schools worldwide, told Decanter.com the government’s approach was alarmist and its definitions too loose.

Helena Conibear, executive director of AIM and co-director of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, which has submitted written evidence on alcohol consumption to the UK government’s Science and Technology Committee, said existing guidelines of 2-3 units of alcohol for women and 3-4 for men ‘work perfectly well’.

‘To talk about “two large glasses of wine” is too loose a definition. There is a danger of scaremongering. We have put a huge effort into educating the public: current guidelines are sensible and where they should be.’

Conibear said there is a major difference between a glass of Pinot Grigio at 12% and a glass of 14% Shiraz. ‘You have to define what a large glass is, and what “strong” means. This is the line we should be taking.’

Gavin Partington at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said, ‘Many would accept that it is the government’s responsibility to communicate guidelines on alcohol, while they may have issues about the tone and volume of the communication.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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