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Alcohol units should be revised, say MPs

Published:  09 January, 2012

MPs have called for alcohol unit guidelines to be reviewed and the public to avoid alcohol for at least two days a week.

The report from the Science and Technology Committee, published today, highlighted MPs' concerns that guidelines for alcohol consumption have not been updated since 1987, and that public understanding of the advice is poor.

Andrew Miller MP, committee chair, said: "Unfortunately, public understanding of how to use the guidelines and what an alcohol unit looks like is poor, although improving.

"While we urge the UK Health Departments to re-evaluate the guidelines more thoroughly, the evidence we received suggests that the guidelines should not be increased and that people should be advised to take at least two drink-free days a week."

Current advice suggests that men should not consume more than 21 units of alcohol a week and 14 for women, expressed in daily terms men should not drink more than three to four units a day and women no more than two to three units a day.

Through the Responsibility Deal, the government is working with the drinks industry to ensure that over 80% of alcoholic products on shelf will have labels with alcoholic unit content and the drinking guidelines by 2013. The committee warned that the government "should remain mindful that sensible drinking messages may conflict with the business objectives of drinks companies and exercise proper scrutiny and oversight". It called for an interim assessment by December 2012 rather than the target date of December 2013.

The committee recommends that the Department of Health and devolved health departments should establish a working group to review the evidence and advise whether the guidelines should be revised.

The trade's response:

  • WSTA spokesman Gavin Partington said: "People want simple, consistent advice on how to drink responsibly. Through our commitment to the Responsibility Deal, the vast majority of alcohol labels on UK shelves will contain responsible drinking guidelines by 2013, supported by point-of-sale information in both the on-and-off trades."

  • Alcohol Concern's chief executive Eric Appleby said: "This report sets out how far we have come, but is also clear about how much remains to be done. We welcome the attention the committee has paid to widespread concern about the inherent inconsistency of making businesses whose role is to increase profits from the sale of alcohol responsible for messages about moderate drinking."

  • The Portman Group's chief executive Henry Ashworth said: "We share the Committee's view that efforts should focus on helping people understand existing drinking guidelines and how to use them. That's why the industry has volunteered to feature Government health information on over 80% of alcoholic product labels by the end of December 2013. We firmly believe that education and information are essential to drive culture change and welcome the Committee's recognition that the cooperation of the drinks industry is vital in achieving this."

  • Chris Sorek, chief executive of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware said it was doing more to raise awareness of how many units are in alcoholic drinks.
    "Drinkaware has developed tools to help people better judge how many units are in alcoholic drinks to support them to moderate their drinking. What's more encouraging is the very positive public response. Our online drinks calculator,, has seen a 387% increase in sign ups in 2011 compared to 2010 and 1.2 million visits have been made to the unit calculator page of our website in the last 12 months."

  • Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: "British brewers already have a very good track record of making unit awareness available on bottles and cans - over 90% of products already have this information, and by 2013, over 90% will have lower-risk drinking guidelines and a pregnancy warning, too [this figure is already over 70%]."