A new government campaign is to warn drinkers that consuming two large glasses of wine or two strong pints of beer a day triples their risk of developing mouth cancer. New adverts aim to show that even drinking just over the recommended daily limit for alcohol increases the risk of serious health problems.
NHS recommendations are that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day, and women not more than two to three. Adverts will run under the Change4Life banner and people will be able to access a new online calculator to work out how much they are drinking. Two million leaflets will also be made available to Change4Life supporters and health professionals across England.
Drinkers will be encouraged to cut down through measures such as having alcohol-free days, not drinking at home before going out, swapping to low- or alcohol-free drinks and using smaller glasses.
Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said: "It's crucial we support people to know about how drinking too much poses health risks and how they can control their drinking.
"It can be easy to slip into the habit of having a few extra drinks each day, especially when drinking at home. But there can be serious health risks."
The campaign follows a survey of more than 2,000 people, which found that 85 per cent did not realise that drinking over recommended limits increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Some 65 per cent were unaware it increases the risk of bowel cancer and 63 per cent did not know about a raised risk of pancreatitis.
A further 30 per cent did not realise that drinking just over the limits increases the risk of high blood pressure; 37 per cent did not know it can impact fertility; and 59 per cent were unaware of the greater risks of mouth, throat and neck cancer.
Sarah Lyness, of Cancer Research UK, said: "Alcohol can increase the risk of seven types of cancer, including two of the commonest kinds – breast and bowel cancers. A recent study showed that nearly 12,500 cancers in the UK each year are caused by alcohol."
But the issue of how to tackle alcohol abuse has proved controversial. Six major health organisations last year refused to back a public health "responsibility deal" in which alcohol retailers and producers pledged to provide clear unit labelling, support awareness campaigns and develop a new sponsorship code on responsible drinking. They said the lack of sanctions indicated the Government was allowing the drinks industry to dictate health policy.
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