Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Tories call to revamp alcohol labelling

Different views on alcohol labelling

The term "units of alcohol" should be scrapped in favour of centilitres of pure alcohol, the Tories have said.

The party said there was confusion over units and the UK should adopt specific measures, as much of Europe does, to help encourage safer drinking.

They also called for extra information to be given on labelling, including calorie content, as part of a voluntary agreement with the drinks industry.

But campaigners said the system would work only if it was mandatory.

A voluntary code has been in place since the late 1990s encouraging drinks manufacturers to give details about the number of units in drinks.

Glass of wine showing measures of units and cl

But recent research showed that only just over half of all drinks contain unit information - despite an industry pledge last year to improve compliance.

What is more, less than a fifth have advice about sensible drinking levels.

The findings come amid rising levels of alcohol abuse - a 10th of the population are now classed as hazardous drinkers.

The Tories said the public would be much more able to understand a system where the amount of pure alcohol in a drink was clearly set out, despite the fact that a unit is actually one centilitre.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "In order that people are able to make the right choices we need to provide them with simple and correct information. Information is a basis for us to create a positive climate for changing behaviour."

Allowing the industry to regulate itself is like a chocolate teapot. You need mandatory regulation
Alcohol Concern spokeswoman

But the proposals were given a lukewarm response by campaigners.

Alcohol Concern said it was in favour of more information being given, but added many people were beginning to get a grasp on units.

A spokeswoman added: "Allowing the industry to regulate itself is like a chocolate teapot. You need mandatory regulation."

The proposals were part of a series of policies - many already announced - which were published in the Conservative Party's new public health strategy.

Andrew Lansley: ''We have to make sure information is meaningful''

The document also called for public health funding to be ring-fenced - it is often vulnerable during periods of cuts - extra health visitors and a national School Olympics competition.

Mr Lansley said the strategy was based on "empowering local communities" and he promised to fund public health projects where there was evidence of improvement.

He accused the government of a lack of vision which had led to rising rates of obesity, sexual health problems and drug abuse as well as alcohol problems.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said it was "not the government's role to dictate social norms".

"To make an informed choice about their health, people simply need clear advice on what's in their favourite drink - a pint of lager, a glass of wine, or a gin and tonic. That's exactly what our Know Your Limits 'Units' campaign has done.

"The government has worked hard with industry so that labels on bottles and cans should give people the number of units in the drink and the NHS advice on daily limits. We are already looking at putting calorie information on labels."

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "Changing to centilitres would be a big mistake and undo 30 years of public education about units of alcohol.

"The best way to tackle confusion is to have mandatory standardised labelling. It's time to stop pussyfooting around with the alcohol industry."

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