Health experts from the department of public health at Oxford University are urging people to drink just a half unit of alcohol daily in order to cut the number of deaths from cancer, liver disease and other conditions linked to drinking.
The Government’s safe drinking guidelines – no more than 24 units a week for men and 14 units for women – should be revised downwards to make the recommended limits much closer to half a unit (the equivalent of barely a quarter of a pint of lager), they say.
Getting average intake down to a half unit daily could save 4,600 lives a year in England, the study found. Most of that would come from lower death rates from cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.
But the advice was met with incredulity from even the most responsible of quarters. Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “Extreme advice could backfire, as it would be far more likely to be ignored by drinkers.”
“This is not the way to reduce harms in the small group who misuse alcohol and need specific and targeted help.”
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, a social responsibility body funded by the drinks industry, said: “Drastically cutting everyone’s consumption to half a unit a day – that is, one large glass of wine a week – is not the way to reduce harms in the small group who misuse alcohol and need specific and targeted help.”
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer in England, is currently reviewing the alcohol guidelines.
The Commons science and technology select committee recently urged the Government to include a recommendation that people remain drink-free for at least two days a week in any updated guidance.
Even Alcohol Concern, which represents alcohol projects across the UK, rejected the half-unit idea. “Although the findings of this study will be valuable for the Department of Health working group currently reviewing the drinking recommendations, the focus of the guidelines must be to gain the maximum acceptance by the drinking public, and to offer a realistic way of reducing the risks associated with drinking,” a spokesman said.
A Department of Health spokesman said Sally Davies “will review the evidence on alcohol and health risks including whether advice is needed on the maximum amount of alcohol that can be drunk in one session”.