Statement on alcohol consumption guidelines

25 August 2016: Responding to the government’s statement today on the alcohol consumption guidelines, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said:

“We reiterate our support today for the alcohol consumption guidelines released in January 2016.

The public have the right to know about the harms associated with alcohol consumption, so that they can make informed choices about their drinking.

The latest evidence demonstrates that the risk associated with cancer increases with any amount of alcohol consumed, so there is no level of drinking which can be considered ‘safe’. This evidence was not available when the guidelines were last reviewed and is partly why the low risk guidelines have been revised downwards by the four chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I was part of the group advising the chief medical officers on the latest evidence, and can attest to the thoroughness and independence with which the guidelines were developed.

Thus far, the risks associated with alcohol consumption have been poorly communicated to the public. A study earlier this year, for example, demonstrated that nine in ten people are not aware of the link between alcohol and cancer.[i]

To ensure the public has faith in these new guidelines, it is essential that the harms associated with alcohol are communicated clearly to healthcare professionals and consumers. This should be done via mandatory labelling of alcoholic products, and mass media campaigns developed by Public Health England.”

Notes to editors

The government’s statement follows a consultation associated with the new guidelines. The guidelines themselves were not up for consultation – they have been in place since January 2016. The consultation sought views on how best the new guidelines should be communicated.

The new guidelines are based on 44 systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the impact of alcohol on health. All of these studies have come out since the previous guidelines were developed.

Prior to the development of the guidelines, three independent groups of experts met over the course of two and a half years to advise the chief medical officers on these guidelines. These groups also consulted with experts involved in reviewing alcohol guidelines in Australia and Canada.

[i] Buykx P, Li J, Gavens L, Lovatt M, Gomes de Matos E, Holmes J, Hooper L and Meier P (2015) An investigation of public knowledge of the link between alcohol and cancer. University of Sheffield and Cancer Research UK.