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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK


Alcohol labelled in units

People find it hard to estimate units when strengths of alcohol vary

Drinks manufacturers have begun labelling their cans and bottles to show how many units of alcohol are contained in them.

The BBC's Karen Allen: "Labelling is unlikely to deter abuse"
The initiative - claimed to be the first of its kind in Europe - is being started on Wednesday by the six largest manufacturers in the UK.

It covers a wide range of beers, ciders, wines and spirits and is aimed at helping consumers know how much they are drinking.

The measure is being supported by the government's Health Education Authority, which is republishing its advisory leaflet, Think About Drink, to coincide with it.

An HEA survey, published simultaneously, found that 83% of the 2,000 people questioned said it was 'important' or 'very important' to know how many alcohol units were contained in their drinks.

Consumption limits

A unit is said to be equivalent to half a pint of standard-strength beer, one measure of spirits or one glass of wine.

[ image:  ]
The government introduced the idea of alcohol unit counting back in 1985, to help people control their drinking.

The suggested sensible maximum drinking limit per week was set at 21 for men and 14 for women.

That has since been broken up into daily maximum allowances - three to four units for men and two to three units for women - to stop people saving them up for a weekend session.

The BBC's Rebecca Marston: "People find current ways of counting units confusing"
But people have found it difficult to work out how many units are in certain types of drink.

For example, wines can vary in strength from 7% to 14%, which means a bottle of wine could be either six units or almost double that.

Wednesday's initiative is meant to counteract that problem for people buying alcohol in supermarkets, off-licences or pubs.

Essential step

Dr Lynne Friedli, Alcohol Programme Manager for the HEA, said: "Labelling drinks with unit information is essential if consumers are to understand how much they are drinking.

[ image:  ]
"More manufacturers should follow the lead of those now labelling their cans and bottles and this initiative should lead to greater understanding.

"However, while this is a positive first step, in the longer term we would like to see labels carrying sensible drinking advice.

"This would make it easier for people to make a healthy choice."

Public Health Minister Tessa Jowell said: "I welcome this partnership with the drinks industry which will promote sensible drinking.

"Together, labelling and the excellent leaflet will enable those who drink to be better informed and able to enjoy drinking without damaging their health."

'Informed decisions'

A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said: "We are much in favour of this scheme as we want consumers to have as much information as possible about what they are drinking.

"But we would also like to see labels displaying recommended levels of drinking as well."

Kneale Ashwell, of Seagram Distillers, said: "This information, along with that provided by the HEA, will help people to make more informed decisions about responsible alcohol consumption.

A spokesman for the Portman Group, which represents the drinks industry, said that althought the organisation was not taking part in the initiative, it would support it.

He said: "We welcome it and think that of course it is helpful for consumers to see and know exactly how much alcohol is in an individual drink."

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