Alcohol Use Disorders (34) Do people understand the harms of alcohol? (8) How can they be better informed? (4)

9 February, 2024

I was interested to read this letter from Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance and special adviser on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians (UK). It was written in 2016 - what has changed since then? Is there similar action in other countries?


Communicating the health harms of alcohol to the public

14 November 2016

As Alcohol Awareness Week 2016 begins, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance and special adviser on alcohol to the RCP, explains what the government should do to communicate the harms associated with alcohol to the public.

The public have the right to know about the health risks associated with alcohol, so that they are empowered to make informed choices about their drinking.

Yet worryingly, awareness of the risks is very low. For example, only 1 in 10 people in the UK are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer.[1]


Following Alcohol Awareness Week, however, more needs to be done to make sure the public are aware of the risks associated with alcohol. We need action at governmental level, where the resources exist for sustained national initiatives.

[New guidelines] advise that, to keep risks low, you are safest to drink no more than 14 units per week, with these units spread out over 4–5 days.

Specifically, the government should do two things to communicate the risks, and the new guidelines:

The government should develop mass media campaigns outlining the risks. These could include TV and radio advertisements, social media campaigns, and messages on public transport.

The government should introduce mandatory labelling of all alcoholic products, containing clear and legible health information about the harms associated with drinking.

Once introduced, these measures will lead to a population more in control of their health, and better able to avoid the health harms associated with alcohol. There can be no rationale for withholding from the public information to help them make more informed choices – the government should introduce these measures now.


I have written to Sir Ian to invite him to join us.

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: