Alcohol packaging and the British consumer

The UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH) has stated that it is recommended for bottles of beer, wine and spirits to carry graphic health labels in the style of cigarette packages to ensure that drinkers are aware of the many risks that excessive alcohol consumption possesses, such as giving rise to cancer, infertility and violence.

According to FPH, harmful drinking has become so widespread that serious warnings should be displayed on alcohol products in places where it’s easily possible for the public to spot them so that the present problem of ignorance over drinking irresponsibly can be overcome. Suggestions have been made to plaster alcohol products with attention-grabbing images such as the state of a liver after many years of alcohol-related cirrhosis, or violence due to excessive alcohol consumption.

The FPH represents 3,300 public health specialists working in the NHS, local government and academia. Professor Mark Bellis, the spokesman for FPH on alcohol, the director of the NHS’s regional public health observatory in Liverpool, which specialises in drinking and drug-taking, and director of the centre for public health research at Liverpool John Moores University, has stated that alcohol is connected to 60 medical conditions and all of the information needed to factual. The labels, Bellis added, could have slogans of how alcohol increases risks of violence and abuse, causes over 15,000 deaths a year in Britain, increases the risk of breast cancer in women, and reduces fertility for both men and women. The British Medical Association which represents 140,000 of Britain’s 200,000 doctors has also endorsed FPH’s plan.

Alcohol bottles and cans in Britain carry a series of complex information such as calorie consumption, quality of the product, heritage, jammed into a limited space that is more often than not overlooked by consumers. Adding graphic depictions of the repercussions of excessive alcohol consumption, aside from making the cans and bottles as less appealing as possible, will not be creating so much of a difference to the public’s attitudes to drinking because drinkers are known to not spend a lot of their time reading labels right before or after purchasing alcohol products.

To curb unhealthy drinking habits and increase knowledge about the situation, funding should instead be allocated to broadcasting the message on billboards and media outlets such as the radio, television and newspapers, to let it become a staple part of people’s lives.

The drinks industry should not be penalised for the small number of people who behave irresponsibly and choose to consume alcohol over standards deemed to be healthy, as clouding alcohol products in such negativity could lead to consumers being put off all-together from trying out new and never-before-tried alcohol products, which in turn would stifle competition in the British drinking. Although every alcohol can or bottle would have healthy labels plastered over the packaging, consumers might not be as liberal minded about purchasing them as they are in the present.

The plan by FPH has already been criticised for being disproportionate and unnecessary by the drinks industry. The industry deems these extra measures as unnecessary as 60% of all cans and bottles of alcohol in the country already carry advice on sensible drinking, as part of a pledge between producers and ministers that 80% will do so by the end of 2013.