The Department of Health (DoH) have released a document outlining how it would like to see the revised recommended drinking guidelines communicated on alcohol packaging and containers.
The release says the DoH 'worked closely with industry' on the document, which may be regarded as necessary given there are no statutory requirements for the labelling of units or responsible drinking messages. However calls for legislation to require products to list units, health warnings and more recently, calories, have been made at national and EU level, but with self-regulatory frameworks remaining the status quo.
The release follows the Government's response to consultation on the revised guidelines of 14 units per week announced in 2016, and outlines 'the core elements of the guidelines that we would wish to see communicated to the public'. It details how each of the key detailed full guideline messages are suggested to appear in concise form (see below).
Self-regulation after the responsibility deal
Under the former responsibility deal, a pledge to "ensure that over 80% of products on shelf (by December 2013) will have labels with clear unit content, NHS guidelines and a warning about drinking when pregnant" was claimed to have been met in 2014. However research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) later reported its own analysis found otherwise, whilst the alcohol pledges overall were deemed to be ineffective.
Whilst there never appeared any indication of whether any of the pledges would be sustained past the identified time frames, or indeed were still policy following the change of Government in 2015, technically the revised guideline annulled the labelling pledge which specified the former daily recommended guidelines. As such, the likely level of uptake of the new advised guideline messaging by producers is an unknown.
Another interesting development has been a change of tack from the Portman Group's complaints panel with regard to rulings on single containers of more than 4 units. Under the former daily guidelines, men were advised not to regularly consume more than 3-4 units, so a responsible can packaging pledge was developed to encourage producers and retailers to ensure single cans did not contain more. Indeed a number of 500ml products with ABVs over 8% fell foul of the panel's rulings, but since the introduction of the weekly guidelines these are no longer being deemed to promote immoderate consumption. A recent ruling on Crest Super, a single 500ml can of 10% ABV containing 5 units, stated:
...the current CMOs’ guidelines did not contain a daily or single occasion drinking guideline, and the Panel could not infer from the evidence presented to the CMOs by the Guidelines Development Group that 5 units on a single occasion was an immoderate (whether because of increased risk to health or safety or otherwise) level of drinking.
Whilst many public health groups may wish to see labelling requirements including calories made statutory, others may point out the limitations of providing information in terms of affecting behaviour change. Indeed two recent research studies found little attention given to responsible drinking or warning messages, although this may partially reflect the limited space typically given to alcohol warning labels.
Perhaps with technology so readily providing information at the touch of a button and the increased understanding of units and calories, information on labels may be of less significance. Nonetheless, the absence of any expected or required label information on even units or pregnancy warnings will be unsatisfactory to many. Similarly, a single link to Drinkaware.co.uk - an alcohol education charity that recieves its funding from the industry - will also be likely to displease some as a way of communicating the risks of heavy episodic drinking.