Alcohol units to be listed on labels

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The Independent Online
BOTTLES of wine and cans of beer and alcopops are to carry labels showing the number of units of alcohol they contain, under new Government guidelines to be announced this week.

Tessa Jowell, the public-health minister, will unveil proposals to tell drinkers exactly how much alcohol they are consuming.

Labels on bottles and cans will include a special logo indicating the number of units in the container, so that drinkers can work out more easily whether they are exceeding the recommended weekly limit.

The labelling initiative, part of the Government's drive to improve the nation's health, has been drawn up in collaboration with the drinks industry. The major producers of spirits, beer and wine have agreed to include the units on their products as a way of trying to avoid tougher statutory regulation.

Ministers believe that problems of alcohol abuse have been exacerbated by ignorance about the strength of particular drinks. They are particularly concerned that new beverages such as alcopops are stronger than people think.

A leaflet, to be distributed to the public through off-licences and supermarkets, warns that some bottles of alcopops contain 2.7 units of alcohol. The Government also wants to emphasise that different types of beer or wine are of different strengths.

"The traditional view has been that a unit is a small glass of wine or a single pub measure of spirits, but there's been a massive proliferation of different types of drinks all of which are different strengths," a government source said. "It's almost impossible for somebody to know how much alcohol they are actually drinking so they need to be told on the labels."

The new labelling system is part of a government drive to reduce alcohol abuse as part of its public-health programme. The Department of Health is preparing an alcohol strategy, which is expected to be published in the autumn. Ministers believe that excessive drinking is dangerous, because it is often associated with crime, and costly to the taxpayer - according to the Health Education Authority, eight out of 10 weekend admissions to accident and emergency departments are alcohol-related.

The Department of Health has identified women and young people as of particular concern. Recent research found that the number of women drinking more than the recommended alcohol limit of 2-3 units a day has gone up from 9 per cent to 16 per cent in the past 10 years, whereas the number of men drinking in excess of the 3-4 unit limit has stayed at around 27 per cent.

There is also evidence that about 190,000 11-to-15-year-olds drink more than the equivalent of seven pints of beer a week.

The leaflet, Think about Drink, to be published this week, will point out the health risks of alcohol abuse and the potential benefits of drinking in moderation.