Health warning plan for alcohol sold in pubs and supermarkets

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The Government is in discussions with the drinks industry about putting cigarette-style health warnings on alcohol and in the places where it is sold.

Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, said that she was looking at including warnings on packaging, in pubs and off-licences, and on supermarket shelves in the next one or two years.

She told the BBC's Six O'Clock News last night: "There is a lot to be said for that and, at the moment, I am in discussion with the drinks industry, both about warnings on the product itself but also at point of sale, whether that's in a bar, supermarket or an off-licence."

Ms Flint added: "Common standard measures of a glass of wine can vary from one establishment to another and the proof of alcohol can vary enormously, whether that's beer or in wine. People don't necessarily always know, even if they want to try and moderate their drinking, just how much they're drinking and how much alcohol is in there." She added: " When people receive a drink in a glass you got to have it at the point of sale."

About 80 per cent of beer packaging already carries a message asking people to drink sensibly but the new warning could go even further, combining information on units with a message such as "don't do drunk".

She said the drinks industry was "receptive" to the idea and was looking at best practice among retailers and producers "to see whether we can get some conformity or consistency across the piece".

The minister said: "Nobody is saying you can't have a drink, but ... think about how you're drinking and its consequences."

Ms Flint said that the discussions also included the issue of " responsible retailing, both in terms of those serving drinks in pubs but also those selling alcohol in shops, to make sure that they are not selling to those underage. But also, if people have had enough to drink, a responsibility to say 'you've had enough, I am not going to serve you anymore'."

A BBC survey revealed that 37 out of 54 casualty units across the UK said that their number of alcohol-related patients had increased in the past five years, with 25 treating children as young as 11 for binge drinking.

Mark Hastings, a spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association, said: "The Government has spent the past two years trying to come up with what a sensible drinking message should actually say. We fully support anything that helps people make better, informed decisions about their drinking to ensure that they don't drink to excess."

Kevin Hawkins, director general of the British Retail Consortium, expected leading supermarkets to bring in "sensible drinking" signs on shelves of beer, wine and spirits. He said that the wording of such signs would probably be left to the discretion of retailers, some of which already use them.

Mr Hawkins said: "If the Department of Health want to suggest a standard message I have no doubt it would be considered. This is not mandatory. It is voluntary, but it is good practice to do it. It will be to promote moderate, sensible drinking."

* Aprogramme in Texas to send undercover agents into bars to arrest drunks has been halted after public protests. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has temporarily suspended "Operation Last Call". The Houston Chronicle found 1,740 people had been arrested in the operation.

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