Tuesday, June 5, 2007


PUBS and restaurants should be forced to carry posters warning drinkers how much alcohol they are consuming, doctors demanded yesterday.

But the move by the British Medical Association has sparked new fears that the Nanny State is now out of control.

Doctors claim that the details of alcoholic units in beer, wine and other favourites listed on bar pumps and menus are not enough to alert customers to what they are drinking.

Under the latest example of information overload, every pub, club and bar in Britain would have to put up public information posters spelling out alcohol levels.

Tory MP Philip Davies last night joined drinks industry leaders in condemning the new health offensive. “This is completely barmy,” he said. “Do they really think that people don’t realise that drinking a lot of alcohol every night is not good for their health? It is blindingly obvious.
Giving in to a demand like this would be attempting to appease health zealots, who will never be satisfied. Every measure that is introduced will always lead to calls to go one step further. It is the Nanny State gone mad.” Pub groups are equally angry and say that such as scheme would be unworkable.

Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations who represent the trade, said: “When we think about all the alcoholic drinks we sell, there would not be enough space on a poster to cover the units in every one.

“Why can’t they just put it in price lists. That should accommodate people who are interested.”
The posters-in-pubs demand by leading doctors is yet another example of the Nanny State ap­pearing to be all-powerful and beyond question.

Last week ministers announced plans to create a method for calculating the carbon content of goods and services which must be shown. The details would help the public to grasp the carbon footprint of anything from a flight to New Zealand to a box of matches.

The smoking ban next month, which will involve all enclosed public places, has been welcomed by health experts but is seen by some as too draconian.

The BMA said most customers had no idea how many units were in the average drink and it was up to the state to get this information across.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said a glass of wine may be 175ml in one pub, 250ml in another and more than that elsewhere. One glass could contain anything from one unit to three or more.

“People are getting into accidents and going over the limit because they have no idea what the drink is,” she said. “Labelling enables people to comply with the law and comply with medical advice.

“We have got to get it right. It is not about the Nanny State – it is about the information state. And it’s the state’s job to give people information so they can make informed choices.”

Dr Nathanson said a poster would be the best way to get the information across. A poster would not have to list every brand of beer or wine, as drinks could be summarised in categories.

“When you are in a pub, you do not ask to look at the label on a wine bottle,” she said.

“If you don’t know how much alcohol there is in a glass in front of you, it is hard to work out how much alcohol you have had that day or week.” she said.

Last night the British Beer and Pub Association said alcohol content was displayed on 85 per cent of packaging. But they were in talks with the Government over raising public awareness.

“We’d want to make sure anything we did informed customers in a way they found helpful. We would be willing to discuss it with ministers but we would have to see the detail,” said a spokesman.

The Government announced last week that alcoholic drinks will get new information labels. In a voluntary agreement between ministers and the industry, all drinks will be expected to carry details of units and recommended safe levels on labels by the end of 2008.

At present, bottles and cans carry percentage details of alcohol and most carry unit information. But the Government also wants safety advice for pregnant women put on there as well as the recommendations for sensible drinking.

In recent years, the number of Britons drinking to excess has spiralled as the relative cost of alcohol has fallen. At the same time, pubs use larger wine glasses with more than three units of alcohol.

Some pubs routinely give customers a “double” if they order a spirit with mixer. This has made it harder for drinkers to keep count of the alcoholic units they are consuming during an evening.

But Blair Gibbs, spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “The Nanny State can never find enough reasons to spend more of our money telling us how to live our lives.

“Any health campaign can always be justified by someone but why is it always taxpayers who have to pay?”

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