Calls for hard hitting tobacco style alcohol campaigns to be rolled out nationally to counter deaths from drinkingPublished Monday, 15th November 2021
Call comes as campaign supported by NHS and local authority public health teams launches in the North .
- 1 in 25 newly diagnosed cancer cases in 2020 may be associated with drinking alcohol - around 17,000 cases in the UK.
- But as few as 1 in 3 are aware that alcohol causes cancer
- Call for more awareness coincides with Alcohol Awareness Week (15-21 Nov)
AN MP who won acclaim for sharing in Parliament his recovery journey from alcohol addiction has joined calls from the Alcohol Health Alliance for hard hitting tobacco style campaigns to be rolled out nationally for alcohol.
The call from Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden and liver physician Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, comes as Balance and the NHS launches a major campaign in the North East and North Cumbria to warn that alcohol can cause at least seven types of cancer, including breast, bowel, mouth and throat cancer.
Supported by Cancer Research UK and North East local authorities, the campaign is encouraging those drinking at risky levels to cut down to reduce their risk. The North East is the region which saw the worst rate of alcohol deaths during 2020. It also comes as Alcohol Awareness Week launches from 15 Nov.
A survey in the North East - thought to be the most in- depth analysis of any region’s drinking habits during the pandemic - suggests only 1 in 3 people are aware that alcohol causes cancer but 4 out of 10 are drinking above the Chief Medical Officers’ low risk guidelines of no more than 14 units per week, putting themselves significantly more at risk of developing a range of health conditions.
Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden won nationwide praise in July when he gave an emotional speech in Parliament about battling alcohol addiction. Mr Carden has welcomed the campaign and said: “I have talked openly about my personal experience of being in recovery from alcohol addiction in the hope that it may help others. The harm caused by alcohol is everywhere, but it remains hidden. Alcohol consumption and deaths have spiralled over the past 18 months, doing the worst damage in the most deprived parts of the country like the North of England.
“It feels hugely positive to see Balance and the NHS running the ‘Alcohol Causes Cancer’ campaign in the North East and North Cumbria and we need more action like this to counter the billions spent on alcohol advertising and pro-alcohol messaging. People have a right to know that alcohol is harmful and has such strong links to cancer. If Government is serious about reducing alcohol harm, it should run similar campaigns at a national level. Addiction is a national crisis and it is time for an evidence-based approach to tackling alcohol harms.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “Almost 17,000 new cancer cases in the UK were caused by alcohol in 2020 – that’s around 46 new diagnoses every day. Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer, as well as more than 200 other diseases and injury conditions. Despite this, public awareness of the link between cancer and alcohol remains low.
“Campaigns like this one are a way to help increase public awareness of the dangers associated with drinking. To help further improve the public’s understanding of the risks of alcohol, the Government must introduce better labelling requirements for alcoholic drinks including cancer warnings. This is a vital public health policy that will help encourage the public to make healthier choices when it comes to what they drink.”
A 2021 global study published in The Lancet estimates 1 in 25 newly diagnosed cancer cases in 2020 may be associated with drinking alcohol, which is around 17,000 cases in the UK.
Alice Wiseman is Director of Public Health for Gateshead and Alcohol and Drugs Lead for the Association of Directors of Public Health and has been a prominent voice during the pandemic. She said: “At a time when prevention is key, this is a positive and important step for the NHS and local authorities to come together to prioritise alcohol prevention and launch this campaign, even if it does only cover part of the North. As with COVID, the bulk of alcohol harm falls on the most deprived in our communities.
“Most of us have lost someone to cancer, but unlike smoking we often overlook the risks of alcohol. We don’t see warnings on the bottle or can, and we don’t see national advertising campaigns informing people about the risks. There is every reason for hard hitting tobacco style campaigns to be running for alcohol - just like tobacco alcohol is a carcinogen and people often start drinking at relatively young ages.
“Raising awareness through this campaign is a positive step, but not a silver bullet. Alcohol is still far too cheap, far too available and far too heavily promoted and we need a comprehensive, evidence-based alcohol strategy to make a real difference.”
Balance is the North East Alcohol programme and was set up in 2009 to support people to cut down on alcohol consumption and campaign for effective alcohol policy.
Sue Taylor, Head of Alcohol Policy for Balance said: “Very few people start out with the intention of drinking heavily, but there’s a dearth of information nationally about the risks.
“People do respond to campaigns like these - however unlike tobacco we live in a world where people are bombarded by alcohol advertising, seven days a week and 365 days of the year This is about challenging pro-alcohol messaging and raising awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer – people have a right to know that alcohol is harmful.”
Regions in the North of England see the worst rates of incidence of alcohol related cancers in England, with 39.67 cases per 100,000 people in the North East, 38.46 cases per 100,000 people in Yorkshire and the Humber, and 41.22 cases per 100,000 people in the North West between 2016-18.
“Alcohol Causes Cancer” is being funded by all 12 local authority public health teams in the North East, with substantial NHS funding from the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System, which will enable advertising to run on television.
A major survey in the North East by Balance - thought to be the largest in-depth study of alcohol consumption in any English region during the pandemic – found rates of alcohol consumption are potentially storing up more health problems for the future:
- 4 in 10 adults, or an estimated 855,000 people, and six out of 10 men, were drinking above Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk guidelines of no more than 14 units a week. Heavier drinkers were most likely to have increased their drinking.
- Heavy drinking was highest amongst 45 to 54 year olds; almost one in two people in this age group were drinking above low risk limits.
- Even in retirement (65 plus), one in three adults were drinking above the low risk limits.
Notes to the Editor
Balance is the North East of England’s alcohol programme, the first of its kind in the UK. It aims to encourage people in the North East to reduce how much alcohol they drink so they can live healthier lives in safer communities.