New Alcohol Guidelines Cutting Daily Consumption Dismissed As 'Scaremongering' And 'Flawed'

Chief medical officers have come under fire after issuing new guidelines that reduce the recommended level of alcohol consumption.

The new recommendations suggest that men should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, bringing them in line with women's current recommended drinking levels. Previously men were advised to consume no more than 21 units per week.

Meanwhile pregnant women have been told to avoid alcohol altogether as there is no evidence for a "safe" drinking level.

The recommendations, issued by chief medical officer Sally Davies, follow a study suggesting there is a strong link between alcohol consumption and increased cancer risk.

But the guidance has come under fire for "scaremongering" and discrediting years of scientific evidence on the positive effects of alcohol, including its effects on lowering the risk of heart disease.

Christopher Snowdon, head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, told Radio 4's Today Programme that he disagreed with the new guidelines and labelled the new advice as "scaremongering".

He said: "The strong implication in today's report is that the optimal amount to drink is zero and that is simply scientifically incorrect."

Expanding on why the evidence was scientifically inaccurate, he told HuffPost UK Lifestyle: "The advice is flawed because it dismisses an enormous body of evidence showing that moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease and lower rates of mortality than teetotallers.

"The Chief Medical Officer dismisses this body of evidence on the basis of a single flawed study that was published last year. Anybody who cares about scientific probity should be outraged by this.

"Her intention seems to be to give the public the simple message that alcohol is bad, that there is no safe level and that abstinence is the best option. This may be a clear message but it is not consistent with the facts."

Professor David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, added: "These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition.

"An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health."

The advice on alcohol consumption has put aside recommendations from 1995 and instead takes into account new evidence that alcohol can increase a person's risk of cancer.

It is supported by a new review on alcohol and cancer risk from the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC).

Health officials believe people should have several alcohol-free days a week, but should never "save up" their 14 units for a binge.

For those who are drinking on a single occasion, for example a birthday or wedding, they advised people to drink more slowly, consume alcohol with food and alternate with water.

The new guidance also said evidence that red wine was beneficial for health is now considered "less strong than it was".

It added that only women aged 55 and over may benefit from the protective effect of drinking on heart health.

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Drinking at low levels has been associated with lip cancer, as well as cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, oesophagus and breast.

Meanwhile drinking to excess has been linked to an increased risk of bowel and liver cancer.

The report informing the new guidance said the risk of getting cancer "starts from any level of regular drinking and rises with the amount being drunk", PA reported.

Chief Medical Officer for England Dame Sally Davies said: "Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.

"I want pregnant women to be very clear that they should avoid alcohol as a precaution. Although the risk of harm to the baby is low if they have drunk small amounts of alcohol before becoming aware of the pregnancy, there is no 'safe' level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant.

"What we are aiming to do with these guidelines is give the public the latest and most up-to-date scientific information so that they can make informed decisions about their own drinking and the level of risk they are prepared to take."

Breakdown of the new guidelines

On regular drinking:

:: You are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week, to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level.

:: If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more. If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long-term illnesses and from accidents and injuries.

:: The risk of developing a range of illnesses (including, for example, cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis.

:: If you wish to cut down the amount you're drinking, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.

Men and women can reduce risks by:

:: Limiting the total amount of alcohol you drink on any occasion.

:: Drinking more slowly, drinking with food, and alternating with water.

:: Avoiding risky places and activities, making sure you have people you know around, and ensuring you can get home safely.

The sorts of things that are more likely to happen if you do not judge the risks from how you drink correctly can include: accidents resulting in injury (causing death in some cases), misjudging risky situations, and losing self-control.

As well as the risk of accident and injury, drinking alcohol regularly is linked to long-term risks such as heart disease, cancer, liver disease, and epilepsy.

On drinking in pregnancy:

:: If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

:: Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk.

:: The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if a woman has drunk only small amounts of alcohol before she knew she was pregnant or during pregnancy.

Women who find out they are pregnant after already having drunk during early pregnancy, should avoid further drinking, but should be aware that it is unlikely in most cases that their baby has been affected.