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Just give us the facts!

Published:  18 January, 2007

Had I not been watching the rugby on Saturday, I'd have been calling on the TMO to check for a replay on the week's other big talking point, namely what is a unit and how many are we
allowed to have each day without being labelled a "hazardous" drinker?

It must seem as clear as mud to the public with headlines such as 'Drink limits "useless"' (The Times), 'Richer areas have worst drink rates" (Independent) and with stories

based on doctors plucking a limit out of the air 20 years ago.

Let's set the record straight. Alcohol consumption has fallen by 5.3% over the last two years, and the UK currently sits mid-table out of the 27 EU countries. For taxation, however, our score is more extreme: we have the second highest taxation of wine, the third highest of spirits and we are the champion taxer of beer.

This week, the public health community and the media were up in arms about the number of us classed as hazardous drinkers. But to be classed as hazardous you could be drinking no more than one unit over the weekly guidelines, or you could be drinking double the amount. It would help if it was

made clear the recommended unit intake for men and women are guidelines, not limits. Alcohol consumption has a different effect on each one of us based on age, sex, size and state of health.

I do not know how policy makers would effectively target interventions to prevent drinkers from becoming 'hazardous', but shouldn't we be concentrating resources on tackling those who are drinking at harmful levels?

The Alcohol Profiles report from Liverpool John Moore's University suggests harmful drinkers could amount to around 5% of the population.

We would urge government to seek to reduce this figure and will talk constructively with them and others to work out what can be done to minimise this harm. Part of the solution

could lie in establishing a common EU-wide definition of a

unit of alcohol.

If sensible drinking guidelines are to be credibly believed, the

Government needs to take the lead in getting the evidence out

in the open and in being transparent about the use of language. Otherwise we are in real danger of dropping an own

goal and no one will be celebrating victory.

Jeremy Beadles is chief executive of the Wine and

Spirit Trade Association