Almost 17,000 new cancer cases in the UK were linked to alcohol in 2020 – that’s around 46 new diagnoses every day . Despite this, little is being done to reduce the health harms of alcohol. Here, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK explores what steps the government must take to improve our nation’s health. Alcohol Health Alliance UK is a coalition of more than 60 organisations working together to end alcohol harm. Professor Gilmore is a former president of the Royal College of Physicians (2006-2010) and is the director of the Liverpool Centre for Alcohol Research.
Increase the price of alcohol
In England, it is possible to drink the low-risk weekly guideline of 14 units for just £2.68 (2) – about the price of a cup of coffee from many high street coffee chains. Evidence shows that as alcohol becomes more affordable, drinking and alcohol-related harm increase. The simplest way to reduce the amount of cheap alcohol drunk is by increasing the price. A 50p minimum unit price (MUP) in England is estimated to save 525 lives and cut healthcare costs by £326 million every year. MUP was introduced in Scotland in 2018 and in Wales in 2020. Since its introduction in Scotland, alcohol sales have reached their lowest level since 1994. If we are to tackle alcohol harm and improve our nation’s health, England cannot afford to be left behind the rest of the country.
Provide access to information
Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer, as well as more than 200 other diseases and injury conditions (2). Yet only 30% people in the UK spontaneously link alcohol with cancer (3). More needs to be done to increase people’s awareness of the health harms associated with alcohol so they can make informed choices about what and how much they drink. We need nutritional information and prominent health warnings on alcohol labels. Studies suggest that this could help reduce alcohol harm by increasing knowledge of the health risks and prompting behaviour change.
Introduce restrictions on alcohol advertising, promotion and availability
Alcohol advertising is everywhere in the UK today. A recent study found that alcohol appeared every 12 seconds at a 2020 Six Nations rugby match (4). This tournament is watched by around 30 million children every year. Marketing like this serves as a way to normalise alcohol consumption and have it be seen as part of everyday life from a young age. We need the government to introduce comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising across multiple media, including restrictions on sponsorships and activities targeting young people and see the end of the 24-hour unrestricted availability of alcohol at shops.
Want to take action on alcohol harm? Become a campaigner with the Alcohol Health Alliance. We’d also love to hear your thoughts about the importance of understanding the risks of alcohol and any ideas you have for education patients and clients. Use the comments box below.
Our free webinar Alcohol and cancer – time for action? takes place on Wednesday 17 November, 8-9pm. In partnership with the Alcohol Health Alliance, it will explore the evidence behind World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendation to avoid alcohol. We will also look at the rising levels of alcohol-related harm in the UK, the evidence-based solutions, and the latest campaigns for change. Register now