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With the end of Dry January in sight, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is calling for a change in the way alcoholic drinks are labelled in the UK to address what it calls an ‘alcohol health awareness vacuum’. Action is needed to raise public understanding of the effects of alcohol on health, says the organisation. Research has shown that less than one in six people (16%) are aware of the Government’s low-risk alcohol guidelines, only one in 10 understand the link between alcohol and cancer, and 80% are unable to correctly estimate the calories in a glass of wine.

In its report Labelling the Point, the RSPH wants it to be mandatory on labels to have a drink-drive warning and to include the government’s guideline to drink no more than 14 units a week. Traffic light colour coding – similar to that used on many food items in the UK – could be one method to increase understanding of the health risks. The link between drinking alcohol and cancer could also be highlighted on labels, in the same way as cigarette packaging was forced to do. Feedback on tobacco labelling strongly suggests that explicit health warning labels, particularly pictorial labels, can be effective not only in raising awareness but also in influencing behaviour change, says the RSPH.

“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”, said Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH.

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