Bottles and cans of alcohol sold in the UK should be covered with graphic cigarette-style health warnings to highlight the risks of exceeding the recommended limit, the Royal Society for Public Health has demanded.
The public health body said on Friday that a very few people were aware of the new UK alcohol limit set by chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies of 14 units per week for both males and females, and accused alcohol industry lobbyists the Portman Group of endangering the public by dropping its recommendation of including warning labels to companies after the weekly limit for men was revised down from 21.
The RSPH called for mandatory warnings of the 14 units per week on all drink labels sold in the UK, potentially including confronting images of alcohol-related diseases like bowel cancer, as well as a clear drink-drive warning and a calorie count.
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 realise."
"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," she added.
Portman Group CEO John Timothy highlighted the research "found little public interest in a radical overhaul of drinks labelling and strong opposition to cramming more information on pack".
He felt the findings supported the approach taken by the industry in developing updated voluntary guidance and claimed suggesting otherwise "is misrepresentative" and pointed to drinks companies' support of the Drinkaware campaign.
Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, claimed the Portman Group's choice to drop its recommendation on the labelling "clearly showed that alcohol producers wish to withhold information on alcohol and health from the public."