Pubs and bars are leading their customers into dangerous drinking by dressing up supersize measures of wine and spirits as standard orders, doctors warned yesterday.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said the licensing industry was being "irresponsible" by slowly weeding out smaller servings. It fears that drink sizes have edged up by stealth and customers are often fooled into drinking more than they want to.
Around 14 per cent of pubs and wine bars have already got rid of 125ml measures of wine altogether, and customers are left to choose between 175ml and 250ml glasses, the larger amounting to a third of a bottle.
Meanwhile, a growing number of city-centre nightclubs and wine bars now sell "doubles" as standard whenever spirits are ordered, and the onus is on the customer to ask for a single shot.
Professor Ian Gilmore, the RCP's president, said: "People are aware of the units, they want to stay within safe limits, but they are being pushed up way over those limits by just not realising what they are drinking.
"The industry is being irresponsible and needs to put its house in order. There is no doubt at all that many people are drinking significantly more than they realise."
The warning comes amid government concerns over binge drinking, particularly among female wine drinkers. The Department of Health recently launched a £10m advertising campaign aimed at women in their 30s and 40s, who it believes are unaware of how much they are consuming.
The public health minister Dawn Primarolo said: "These are women who may think that one glass of wine equals one unit. But with the increased strength of wine and large size of glasses these days it could be anything from one and a half units up to three and a half units, ifit's a large glass of Rioja."
A recent report in The Publican, the industry magazine, discussed potential ways to "upsell" larger measures – although pub trade business leaders insist the advice to landlords is to offer a choice. Many argue that the shift to large measures has been the result of customer demand rather than a hard-bitten sales drive.
But Greg Mulholland, a Liberal Democrat health spokesman who is campaigning for pubs to be forced to offer smaller measures by law, said: "Quite simply it's profiteering. People should have a choice: if they want a smaller measure they should get it."
Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, said there was a risk of "patronising" customers. He said: "We are in a world of super sizes of everything. We have king-sized beds, emperor size, we have grande coffees. The essence of this is choice for the customer. I wouldn't recommend that any of my members, any pub, only offered a 250ml glass of wine – that's madness, it's not giving customers a choice and it's rowing right into the hands of politicians who want to make some sort of statement that doesn't reflect reality and is probably patronising to the customer."
Mark Hastings, from the British Beer & Pub Association, added: "Way back in the early 1980s there was a huge customer storm being driven about the fact that people felt short-changed in pubs because they were serving 125ml. If people were coming through in increasing numbers asking for 125s, then the one thing you can guarantee is that pubs would start producing them."