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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November 2004, 07:11 GMT
Man holding a glass of whisky
The government has published its long-awaited White Paper on Public Health.

Alcohol is one of the areas covered in the document.

What does the government plan to do?

  • Ofcom will strengthen rules of broadcast advertising of alcohol, particularly adverts aimed at underage drinkers.

  • Alcohol manufacturers will be urged to include warnings to encourage sensible drinking on products and in advertising.

  • The will be investment in NHS services to tackle alcohol problems at an early stage.

  • The government will work with the Portman Group to cut down binge drinking.

What are the health risks?

Drinking too much alcohol is linked to an increased risk of:

  • cirrhosis of the liver,
  • cancer,
  • stroke,
  • pancreatitis,
  • gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach)
  • fertility problems,
  • impotence,
  • neurological disorders,
  • mental health problems

While experts say it is difficult to evaluate exactly how many deaths alcohol misuse is linked to, the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England estimated 22,000 deaths a year were associated in some way.

Moderate drinking - one or two units a day - can have health benefits, giving protection against coronary heart disease. However, this only applies to men over 40 and women who have been through the menopause.

Recommended limits are four units of alcohol per day for men and three for women.

How many people are affected?

The latest Office for National Statistics data for England, outlining drinking habits in 2002, showed 37% of men had drunk more than the recommended daily limit of four units of alcohol on at least one day in the previous week.

Twenty-one per cent had drunk more than eight units in one day - officially classed as binge drinking.

Twenty-two per cent of women had drunk more than their recommended daily limit of three on at least one occasion.

Nine per cent had drunk more than six units in a day.

The ONS figures also showed that 27% of men and 16% of women had drunk more than their recommended weekly limits of 21 and 14 units respectively.

Around 2.9 million - or 7% - of the UK's adult population are now estimated to be dependent on alcohol.

About 25% of children aged 11-15 drink alcohol, and they drink an average of around 10 units per week.

Is it getting worse?

Office for National Statistics data shows the number of women drinking more than 14 units a week has been steadily increasing, from 12% in 1992 to 17% in 2002.

The number of men drinking over 21 units has remained at around the same level over the last decade.

Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the NHS around 1.7bn a year - and the economy as a whole 20.1bn.

What did campaigners want?

Alcohol Concern has said it would like to see the no of units in a drink displayed on cans and bottles, so people can easily tell if they are drinking more than the recommended daily and weekly limits.

It has also called on the government to launch more awareness campaigns highlighting the dangers of drinking excessively.

It said those that existed at the moment appeared "preachy and irrelevant".

The British Medical Association has called for a complete ban on alcohol advertising, and clear labelling of alcoholic drinks to show the number of units they contain.

It warns the UK has one of the highest levels of alcohol abuse and binge drinking in Europe, and doctors are now seeing unprecedented levels of liver disease among young people.

The National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome UK has also backed warning labels.

Earlier this year, the government published its Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England which set out a range of measures including targeting pubs and shops suspected of selling alcohol to under-18s and a "social responsibility charter" for drinks producers which includes providing clear product information and health warnings.

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