Alcohol advertisements should carry health warnings similar to those for tobacco to reduce dangerous levels of drinking among young people, the Government's chief medical officer said yesterday.
Professor Liam Donaldson said negotiations were planned with the drinks industry to persuade manufacturers to convey a more responsible message to young consumers. This might involve changing the tone of advertisements, which frequently use images of sex and glamour to sell drinks.
Health warnings on bottles, such as those carried on alcohol products in the United States, may also be considered. Professor Donaldson said: "I think it would be unrealistic to seek to curb advertising. But I hope we might be able to change the nature of advertising to influence patterns of drink."
Professor Donaldson used his first annual report to warn that heavy drinking and binge-drinking patterns had led to an alarming rise in deaths from liver cirrhosis. Among men aged 35 to 44, there has been an eightfold increase in deaths from the disease over the past 30 years, with a sevenfold rise among women.
The most convincing explanation was the "relatively modern phenomenon" of heavy drinking sessions by young women as well as men.
Studies have shown that English teenagers get drunk more often than their European counterparts and one-fifth of students are intoxicated more than three times a month.
Professor Donaldson said he was not trying to preach to young people, but they should be aware that years of excessive drinking could lead to the need for liver transplants or to premature deaths.
He said: "This is not a moral message. It isn't a message of abstinence. That would not be realistic. Alcohol is an important part of people's social lives. But heavy alcohol consumption, and particularly the binge drinking we have seen over the last 10 years, is not a feature of many other European countries, but they are a feature here."
Kieran Moriarty, a consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Bolton Hospital, said advertisements portrayed drinking as a "very desirable thing to do", while much of the action in television soaps such as EastEnders and Coronation Street took place in bars.
"That all contributes," he said. "Young people are getting the message that it is a big thing to do. We have to present the downside as well. There is no balance at the moment."Reuse content