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Last Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Alcohol health warnings by 2008
Alcohol label from Drink Aware
The new labels should be introduced by the end of 2008
Alcoholic drinks will carry new health warning labels by the end of 2008 under a voluntary agreement between ministers and the drinks industry.

The labels will detail alcoholic units and recommended safe drinking levels.

Bottles and cans currently have alcohol percentages, but only some state what this equals in alcoholic units.

Public health minister Caroline Flint says exactly what the labels will say is not decided, but the warnings will not be as strong as for cigarettes.

The measure was first proposed three years ago, but both sides have struggled to agree on a format.

It is not known how many drinks firms will sign up for the scheme, but ministers said if the industry did not comply, the government would introduce legislation.

Calculating units

The proposed warning labels will include words such as "know your limits" or "drink responsibly", and the number of units each drink contains.

They will also warn that drinking alcohol should be avoided if pregnant or trying to conceive.

They will also give the web address for the education campaign group Drink Aware.

More than 7m people drink more than the recommended daily amounts - three to four units for men and two to three units for women.

A small glass of wine, half a pint of beer or one measure of spirits are often taken as being one unit, but it depends on the percentage of alcohol the drink contains.

With some strong beers and ciders, a pint or a large bottle can add up to three units or more.

In terms of cans and bottles, it's a very good first step
Don Shenkar
Alcohol Concern

Ms Flint said: "This landmark, voluntary agreement will help people calculate, at a glance, how much they are drinking and whether they are staying within sensible drinking guidelines...

"This is about helping people to make the right choices."

While the agreement has been reached only by health ministers in England, it will effectively apply to the UK as manufacturers are unlikely to take a different tack depending on where it is sold.

Kevin Hawkins, of the British Retail Consortium, said the industry wanted to take a "responsible attitude to selling alcohol" and was committed to the system.

"Retailers have been actively involved in the development of this label and the concise and simple way it sets out information," he said.

Pubs call

Alcohol Concern welcomed the scheme but said it did not go far enough.

Don Shenkar, director of policy and services for the charity, said: "We'd like there to be more information in pubs and bars, in terms of the sensible drinking limits there.

"But in terms of cans and bottles, it's a very good first step."

However, Annette Fleming, chief executive of Aquarius, a Midlands-based alcohol and drugs charity, questioned how effective the labelling would be.

She told BBC Radio Five Live: "It begs the question, that once people have had one drink out of a bottle, are they really going to be bothered to read the tiny print that talks about units?

"I'm not sure it will actually make a difference."

Shoppers give their views on the new warning labels

Will alcohol health warning labels make a difference?
Not sure
9162 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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