The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes the phrase “responsible drinking” creates a “sense of shame” for those who fail to control alcohol intake and unfairly pins the blame on individuals who overindulge. The health governing body also think the wording ignores the “inherent risks” of binge drinking and falsely stigmatises drunks when they really are a victim of the low price and easy availability of alcohol.
The WHO guide titled Reporting About Alcohol states: “Any level of alcohol consumption, regardless of the amount, is associated with a greater risk of loss of healthy life. The vague notion of “responsible drinking” that is actively promoted by alcohol producers and marketers, does not define when to stop drinking or suggest the option of not drinking.”
It added: “It does, however, create a mistaken impression that the alcohol industry is part of the solution to harms from drinking rather than a driver of the problem.”
Moreover, it says, the moralising tone implicit in “responsible drinking” messages ignores the inherent risks in consuming alcohol, mischaracterising its harms as the result of a small minority of individual drinkers who cannot control their intake.”
Critics have accused the WHO of trying to erase the concept of free will and personal responsibility so it can impose “nanny-state restrictions”. They say the guide to writing about alcohol is “riddled with factual errors and scare tactics”.
The head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Christopher Snowdon, told the Daily Mail: “There is a tendency among nanny activists to erase the concept of free will and personal responsibility. We see this not only with alcohol but also with food and gambling.”
He added: “Their goal is to put all the blame on people who sell products rather than on the people who misuse products. This gives them the excuse for endless restrictions on individual freedom masquerading as controls on industry.”
Mr Snowdon believes member states should tell the WHO to “distance itself” from fanatical pressure groups and thinks the WHO is “commissioning temperance activists to write reports on alcohol.”
Advice from UK’s chief medical officers, including Professor Sir Chris Whitty, say to keep health risks from alcohol to a “low level” and it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. This is the equivalent of around six pints of beer or six medium glasses of wine. They also say the risk of developing health problems increases the “more you drink on a regular basis” but state the possibility of “net benefits from small amounts of alcohol.”
A WHO spokesperson said: “Alcohol is a carcinogen, and its consumption does not protect from diseases. In recent years, science has shown that even a small amount of alcohol use harms individuals and their families, creating an unnecessary burden on societies.”
WHO added: “No amount of alcohol is safe to drink, less alcohol is more health.”
The health governing body has developed an alcohol screening tool, used by UK healthcare professionals to determine if someone has alcohol problems. You can carry out the test at the following UK Government website here.