Churches call for 'health warning' labels for all alcoholic drinks

The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church are asking theGovernment to introduce legislation requiring the drinks industryto print cigarette-style health warnings on all products andadverts along with the recommended weekly alcohol unit intake formen and women. The recommendations are made in their submissions tothe Government's consultation on a National Alcohol Harm ReductionStrategy.

The Churches recommend that the drinks industry should take moreresponsibility for the harm alcohol causes by contributing to thecosts of prevention and treatment of problem drinking, much thesame as is being proposed for the gambling industry. This couldinvolve the drinks industry paying for the running of detox centresand community-based projects to support families affected bydrink-related problems.

Alcohol abuse remains the biggest killer among all drugs in theUK. Alcohol Concern estimates that 28,000 hospital admissions peryear are due to alcohol dependence or toxic effects. Moreover, eachyear 5,000 deaths in England and Wales are directly attributable toalcohol and it is implicated in a further 33,000.

"It is imperative that we find a way to encourage responsibledrinking to reduce the huge numbers of deaths caused by drinkingand the associated social problems," said Dr Adrian Bonner, Head ofAddiction Services for The Salvation Army and an expert inAddictive Behaviour at the University of Kent. "We are looking formore measures to encourage a mind-set that says that all forms ofexcessive drinking are dangerous to individuals and those aroundthem, not only drink-driving."

"We are concerned about the mixed messages concerning the healthimpact of alcohol," said Rachel Lampard, the Methodist ChurchSecretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs. "There isminimal evidence for the health benefits of alcohol, whilst theevidence for the health costs is well established."

There is particular concern raised about young people'sincreased drinking. The Salvation Army report The Burdenof Youth, which looked at issues facing young people,highlighted Department of Health figures from 2001 which showedthat 24% of under-16s had drank alcohol in the week before theywere surveyed. The Methodist children's charity NCH has noted thatchildren and young people are starting to drink at an earlier age,whilst at the same time very little treatment is aimed at this agegroup. Specific, well-designed, innovative campaigns should betargeted at young people of school age to outline the dangers ofalcohol.

In their submissions The Salvation Army and the Methodist Churchhave sought to encourage the Government in its role to combatalcohol misuse and its consequences. Other recommendations theymake include making non-alcoholic drink in pubs and bars cheaperand trying local experiments where a minimum price is set for adrink, thus effectively neutralising 'happy hours'. These, alongwith student 'freshers' weeks', encourage binge drinking,particularly among young people. A move to longer opening hours forpubs and bars alone may not reduce the problems caused by levels ofbinge drinking but simply redistribute them. Such a move must bepart of a package of measures to address anti-social behaviour andthe impact of heavy drinking.

The Churches also express concern over the lack of primarytreatment or detoxification services, not only because of ashortage in funding but also because of a shortage of qualifiedstaff, which needs to be addressed if people addicted to alcoholare to be helped to overcome their problems. The Salvation Army andthe Methodists have also called on the Government to ensure thatmoney for alcohol treatment doesn't lose out to high-profile drugschemes.