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reference centre on cancer, produced last year its volume on alcohol consumption and its conclusion was that alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans and it is the ethanol in alcoholic beverages that is carcinogenic to humans. So there is very clear, authoritative, evidence that alcohol produces cancer, that is, it is a carcinogen.” Tese are the sort of facts that people should be made aware of, he stressed. “Did you know that alcohol damages the

adolescent brain? Did you know that 25 per cent of male and 15 per cent of female adolescent deaths are due to alcohol? Did you know that among the middle-aged, alcohol is the top cause of ill-health and premature death in the world? Did you know that alcohol and pregnancy increases the risk of early childhood myeloid leukaemia nearly three fold? Did you know that alcohol produces cancer in at least eight major organs? Did you know that drinking a bottle of wine a day means there is a ten per cent chance that your death is due to alcohol? “I don’t think that people actually know

these facts, and shouldn’t we, therefore, use every opportunity to inform them.” Dr Nick Sheron, Royal College of

Physicians’ representative to the EU Alcohol Forum, agreed that the public’s general understanding of alcohol is “not very good,” which is why, he said, he supports putting independent health warnings on labels. “Te reason I think we should is because

the vast majority of people coming to see me with liver disease don’t really know the sort of things they should know. Let

me give you an example. Most people with liver disease assume you can only get liver disease if you are an alcoholic, but only a third of my patients are alcoholics. Two thirds of them are heavy social drinkers. So two thirds of my patients are deeply, deeply shocked when they come in with their fatal illness, because a third of them die before they get a chance to stop drinking. Tat for me is a reason to say on the label something about the contents, specifically something about the toxic, carcinogenic

“This is a really important piece of information, that

for us, the middle-aged, the core working group of the population, alcohol is the

number one risk factor for ill health or premature death”

poison, namely alcohol, in addition to the other ones that are in certain alcoholic beverages in parts of the EU.” Alcohol is “quite possibly the most

powerful neurochemical that most humans will ever ingest,” he said. “Unless people are in the habit of taking a

lot of LSD or something like that, alcohol is probably pretty much it as far as powerful and potentially toxic and carcinogenic neurochemicals go. It is also chronically toxic and therefore, it would make perfect

sense to generally have a pretty good idea of how much alcohol you were ingesting on a weekly basis.” However, people are also not very good

at judging risks, he said, and so these need to be put in context for people to allow consumers to make more informed choices. By way of example, he said he had roughly calculated that drinking a bottle of wine a week equates to a lifetime risk that is equivalent to between 400 and 1600 parachute jumps. “Tat is the sort of thing that I think people can get their heads around. Incidentally, it is about the same as about ten base jumps, that is, jumping with a parachute off a building. So that is the sort of thing I would like to see on labels.” Te health community and health

professionals need to get better at communicating these risks, he added. “I think that really is a crucial thing that

we need to get across to people because this is about risk-factor ratios. Te vast majority of people I see would be a lot healthier if they took up base jumping and they would probably be a lot happier as well. But those risk-factor equations are just not in our vocabulary at the moment and we need to get better at it.” Health-warning messages on alcoholic

beverages are cost effective, easy to implement on the EU level and leave consumers the freedom to choose while informing about risks, explained Mariann Skar, Secretary General, Eurocare. “Eurocare really strongly believes

that labelling should be only part of an integrated strategy to provide information

28 March 2011 Holyrood 39

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