The Alcohol Health Alliance has recently unveiled the outcomes of a public opinion survey conducted in the United Kingdom. The survey aimed to gauge public’s sentiment regarding the implementation of warning labels on alcohol products. As anticipated, the majority of British citizens expressed their support for the introduction of health warning labels on alcohol products within the country. These findings coincided with the release of a fresh bipartisan manifesto in Parliament during July by a coalition of charitable organizations and health advocacy groups advocating for alcohol policy improvements. The manifesto urges the government to adopt an evidence-based approach to address the escalating public health issue of alcohol consumption.

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) recently published the results of an opinion survey conducted in Britain. The poll sought to establish people’s opinion regarding warning labeling on alcohol products.

The survey found that the majority of British people support alcohol health warning labeling. Carried out through YouGov, the opinion poll surveyed 12,000 adult respondents for what they believed should be legal requirements on such labelling.

The key findings of the survey are as follows:

  • 76% of people believe that the number of units in a product (ABV) should be included.
  • 56% of people believe a pregnancy warning should be included.
  • 51% believe that nutritional information such as calories and sugar should be included.
  • 55% (excluding ‘don’t know’) felt that the government is not taking enough action on alcohol.
  • 7 in 10 people wanted government policy to be protected from the influence of the alcohol industry and its representatives.
7 in 10
People are against alcohol industry interference in government alcohol policy making
7 in 10 people said they want government policy to be protected from the influence of the alcohol industry and its representatives.
  • Over half of people welcomed improved marketing regulations.
    • This includes the introduction of health warnings on marketing materials and separate displays for alcohol in shops.
  • There is also demonstrable support amongst respondents from all political backgrounds for tackling the affordability of alcohol.

Alcohol health warning labelling in Britain today

Under current law, all food and non-alcoholic drinks must display nutritional information in Britain. However, alcohol products are exempt from this requirement. This is despite the fact that alcohol is scientifically linked to seven types of cancer and over 200 illnesses. The implication is that alcoholic products are only legally required to display their volume and strength (ABV) and common allergens present.

Unfortunately, the links between warning alcohol labeling and actual alcohol consumption levels is not established yet. A review recently carried out on the few studies available shows that some labelling approaches are effective at increasing participant comprehension.

Pictorial warnings tended to result in greater intentions to reduce alcohol use, but researchers also note that this finding wasn’t consistent across all the studies.

Pictorial warnings and messages relating to cancer are particularly effective. In the 11 studies considered, cancer-related and other negatively framed messages resulted in lower motivations to use alcohol. In conclusion, the researchers noted that this review did not show convincing evidence that alcohol labels reduce alcohol use.

However, they also point out:

Indications that a product is hazardous is a fundamental consumer right, and consumer awareness can increase support for more stringent alcohol policies, such as taxation”.

Edmunds, C.E.R., Gold, N., Burton, R. et al. The effectiveness of alcohol label information for increasing knowledge and awareness: a rapid evidence review. BMC Public Health 23, 1458 (2023).

Alcohol industry prefers no alcohol health warning labeling

A 2020 study carried out by Alcohol Change UK and the AHA examined the effectiveness of alcohol industry self-regulation on alcohol product labels. The absence of any legal requirement to include vital health-related information has led to various types of labels.

Different sectors of the alcohol industry decide to include or omit important information. Even worse is that when health information is included in labeling it is often inaccurate or outdated. There is no cross-industry consensus or enforcement.

The research reveals evidence on how widespread the alcohol labeling problem is in the UK.

The following figures are key results of the study:

  • More than 70% of labels did not include the low risk alcohol use guidelines.
    • Three years passed passed before an update to the labels. The update happened way past the deadline the alcohol industry agreed on with the Government.
  • The industry-funded Portman Group called themselves a “social responsibility body”. However, only 2% of their members included the correct low-risk alcohol use guidelines.
70% +
Labels did not include the 2016 low risk alcohol use guidelines
Three years passed before an update to the labels took place. The update happened way past the deadline the alcohol industry agreed on with the Government.
  • More than half (56%) of labels included no nutritional information. 37% of labels listed only the calorie content on the container. 7% displayed a full nutritional information table.
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of labels surveyed contained misleading, out-of-date health information. This includes the old UK alcohol use guidelines or alcohol use guidelines from other countries.
  • Illegible health information: the average height of the text displaying information about alcohol units equaled to 2mm. This is below the 3.5mm required to be easily readable.
  • The presence of inconsistencies in labeling even between the same product sold at different locations. Some showed updated alcohol use guidelines and others showed old guidelines.

Self-regulation is a failed approach

It is clear that the alcohol industry’s self-regulation is a myth. Alcohol companies failed the public by neglecting to update labeling in accordance with the 2016 low risk alcohol use guidelines. The labeling is also inadequate or inaccurate in providing health information needed for consumers to recognize the harm and risks linked with consuming alcohol products. It is clear that the industry will not willingly adopt comprehensive labeling. Self-regulation is no regulation.

People want the opportunity to lead healthy lives and make healthy choices but current legislation, or lack of, makes this difficult when important health information is being withheld from labels and children are being bombarded by alcohol adverts”.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance

Industry interference and alcohol policy in the UK

In 2020, the UK Government committed to holding a consultation on alcohol labelling. However these plans are yet to manifest. It is debatable whether such a consultation with the alcohol industry on a matter related to public health would prove productive.

But the UK needs to accelerate action on alcohol harm. Alcohol-specific deaths rates reflect an extremely concerning trend in the UK. The Office for National Statistics reported 9641 such deaths in 2021 – the highest on record and a 27.4% increase since 2019 (n=7565).

Rise in deaths and diseases due to alcohol
New data reveal an increase of at least 27.4% in alcohol deaths in the UK after the pandemic struck.

This number of deaths reflects alcohol consumption trends since the pandemic. At the time, alcohol use patterns became more polarised.

People who consumed lower amounts of alcohol before the pandemic consumed less alcohol on average. In the meanwhile, people who consumed higher amounts of alcohol before the pandemic consumed more.

A study estimated that between 2013 and 2014, individuals consuming alcohol above the low-risk guideline levels accounted for 68% of total alcohol sales revenue in England. The 4% of the population who consume the most alcohol accounted for 23% of all industry revenue.

Interestingly, consumption trends established by the above study implies that the industry’s reliance on ‘heavy’ drinkers is only increasing.

In fact, a study of internal alcohol advertising evaluations found that advertisers possessed ample information about their so-called heavy core consumers, and their reliance on them.

Alcohol sales from people consuming more than low-risk levels
4% of the population who consume the most alcohol account for 23% of all industry revenue and between 2013 and 2014, individuals consuming alcohol above the low-risk guideline levels accounted for 68% of total alcohol sales revenue in England.

Clear conflict of interest in profit motives and industry responsibility towards public health

There is a clear discrepancy between the alcohol industry’s own reports of its motivations and their pursuit of profits and reliance on the heaviest alcohol consumers and consumers at high risk of alcohol harm. The UK is in urgent need of a new alcohol policy to reduce alcohol-specific and alcohol-related mortality. For it to be effective and equitable, the industry and the organisations it funds can have no part in writing it.

Clear public support for improved alcohol policy in England

The importance of public opinion surveys is that it helps establish the general consensus on the need for alcohol policy. A lack of clarity in this regard often leaves space for Big Alcohol to interfere and obstruct progression in alcohol policy improvements. On one hand, the industry manipulates public opinion. On the other hand, it leverages the governments’ ignorance of what the people really think to frame alcohol policy as unwelcome and unpopular. But the reality is different.

The results of the present poll came as the group of charities and health organisations calling for alcohol policy improvements launched a new cross-party manifesto in Parliament in July, 2023. The manifesto calls on the government to commit to an evidence-based strategy to tackle the growing public health crisis caused by alcohol. The latest data from the National Audit Office reveals that alcohol-specific deaths rose by 89% between 2001-2021. Alcohol harms are estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion every year. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance made a statement in relation to the occasion.

“While our neighbours are introducing bold and effective policies, such as Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland and Wales, and comprehensive health warnings on alcohol products in Ireland, England is not keeping pace.
Deaths from alcohol have reached a record high and every week that the Government fails to act on this issue, another 490 people die.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance

For further reading

Source Website: UK Alcohol Health Alliance