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Health body calls for graphic health warnings on wine, beer and spirits

Beer, wine and spirits labels should carry graphic warnings as to the dangers of alcohol, a UK health body says.

The UK Faculty of Public Health, which represents some 3,300 public health specialists across a wide range of disciplines, says the dangers of alcohol are so great that tobacco-style health warnings are needed.

The FPH suggests prominent health warnings such as ‘Alcohol increases risks of violence and abuse’; ‘Alcohol causes over 15,000 deaths a year in the UK’ and ‘Alcohol increases risks of mouth, throat and other cancers’ should be placed on beer, wines and spirits containers.

Professor Mark Bellis, the FPH’s spokesman on alcohol and director of the National Health Service regional public health observatory in Liverpool, told Decanter.com the idea was ‘not prohibition’ but to provide consumers ‘with enough information to enable them to make the right decision’ when buying alcohol.

‘Alcohol is a dangerous drug, and the more you consume, the more the dangers increase,’ he said. ‘The important thing is for people to understand those dangers.’

Evidence from similar campaigns in countries such as France, Thailand and South Africa ‘suggests that warnings increase understanding and awareness,’ he said.

Bellis said that wine drinkers were subject to the same risks as lager or cider drinkers, and that the information ‘had to be available to everybody’.

He dismissed the suggestion from experts such as Roger Corder, author of The Wine Diet, that alcohol in moderation is beneficial to health.

‘Anyone who promotes alcohol as beneficial just demonstrates the need for these sorts of warnings.’

The FPH’s stand has been welcomed by some health practitioners but received with dismay by other groups.

Conservative MP Daniel Poulter, a hospital doctor and member of the Commons health select committee, told the Guardian, ‘At the moment the medical consequences of alcohol abuse… are underappreciated by the public. Proper labelling is important and having health warnings as part of that would be most welcome.’

Others however say such warnings would be disproportionate and ‘wrong’. Gavin Partington of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association told Decanter.com, ‘A huge proportion of consumers are drinking within the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines, research amongst under-18s suggests increasing intolerance of under-age drinking, and the drinks industry is already on the way to full compliance with the government’s guidelines under the Health Responsibility Deal.

‘Given evidence that more and more people are drinking responsibly, the FPH’s suggestions would seem to be disproportionate and wrong.’

The Portman Group, a body which is funded by the drinks industry and promotes responsible drinking, also said the plan was ‘disproportionate and unnecessary.’

In France, the issue of wine and health, centred on the Loi Evin which bans the promotion of alcohol, has been the subject of impassioned debate for years.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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