Health warnings set for alcoholic drinks in UK

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholic drinks, European union

Alcoholic drinks on sale in Britain may have to carry health
warnings within two years, said the government's public health
minister, testing the water as a consultation period with the
drinks industry draws to a close.

UK public health minister Caroline Flint told BBC News​ on Thursday that cigarette packet-style health warnings could be introduced for alcoholic drinks on labels, shops and bars.

Her comments hint at government thinking on the subject, less than a month before its deadline for feedback from the drinks industry over a range of regulatory issues, including health warnings on labels.

Concerns have grown in Britain about the potential health effects of the country's binge-drinking culture.

Britons are Western Europe's biggest binge drinkers, consuming more alcohol each time they go out than any other nation, according to a report released this week by market research group Datamonitor​.

World Health Organisation figures estimate that 600,000 Europeans die every year from alcohol-related problems and that this costs European Union members €200bn annually.

Britain's Food Standards Agency was last year asked by the European Commission to gather opinions on warning labels from the UK alcoholic drinks industry.

The Commission requested the same in other member states, as part of a discussion paper on labelling, after France, Sweden and Finland announced they planned to introduce health warning labels for pregnant women on alcoholic drinks.

A report published by the French government last autumn said health warning labels on alcoholic drinks may help change attitudes to drinking in France. It said beer and wine were considered more like water than alcohol in some regions.

Commission officials rejected pre-emptive plans for warning labels by individual member states as a danger to the free movement of goods through the EU.

But, it said: "Warning labels could be an effective means to inform consumers of alcoholic beverages about risks associated with inappropriate consumption of alcohol."

On possible health warnings for drinks, it has advised national governments and industry to consider a range of issues, such as whether warnings should be mandatory or voluntary, who should draw up the message and what particular health issues it should address.

Mixed messages have emerged from the drinks industry.

The British Beer and Pub Association said this week it welcomed a standard message on all alcoholic drinks that would help people to monitor their drinking habits.

European brewing association, Brewers of Europe, said last year, however, said there was no evidence that health warning labels on alcoholic drinks would make people cut down.

"In the absence of evidence that health warning labels are effective in reducing alcohol-related harm, regulators and industry should concentrate their efforts on other, more effective approaches that encourage behavioural changes and promote responsible consumption,"​ it said.

The European Commission is expected to comment on warning labels for drinks when it publishes its EU Alcohol Strategy this year.

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