New campaign focuses on “unseen harms” of alcohol

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 02 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c600
  1. Sophie Cook
  1. 1BMJ

    The number of deaths from alcohol in the United Kingdom has doubled in the past 16 years, with nearly 10 000 people dying in 2008 because of excessive consumption.

    Data from the Office for National Statistics show that alcohol related deaths have risen substantially since the early 1990s, from 6.7 per 100 000 population in 1992 to 13.6 per 100 000 in 2008 (9031 deaths). Males accounted for 66% of all alcohol related deaths in 2008.

    A campaign to raise public awareness of the unseen harms caused by alcohol was launched on 28 January by the Department of Health, in association with Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, and the Stroke Association.

    The £6m (€7m; $10m) government funded media campaign, whose slogan is “Drinking causes damage you can’t see,” gives graphic representations of the lesser known damage caused by alcohol, including cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, oral cancer and stroke. It targets people who do not necessarily think they are at increased risk from alcohol consumption.

    Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance, said, “These figures are a stark reminder of the needless waste of human life which results from our destructive relationship with alcohol.” The doubling in the number of deaths has occurred “despite increased investment in public health campaigns to address problem drinking and the harmful effects of alcohol,” he said.

    NHS Information Centre figures show that more than 10 million adults in the UK are estimated to be regularly drinking more than the recommended limits. A YouGov online survey of 2023 adults, carried out to coincide with the launch of the campaign, showed that 55% of drinkers in England believe that alcohol is detrimental to health only if you drink regularly or binge drink; the vast majority (83%) of those who regularly drink more than the recommended limits did not think that their drinking posed a risk to their health.

    The public health minister, Gillian Merron, said, “Many of us enjoy a drink. Drinking sensibly is not a problem. But if you’re regularly drinking more than the NHS recommended limits you are more likely to get cancer, have a stroke, or have a heart attack.

    “We are not just talking about young people out on a Saturday night drinking too much—that’s quite a comfortable image for many of us. It is about us in our own homes, and I think that is quite a challenge.”

    Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer for England, said, “It is important that people realise the harm they unknowingly can cause to their health by regularly drinking more than the recommended daily limits.”

    He added, “This campaign gives people the facts about the effect alcohol can have on their body and provides support for people who choose to drink less.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c600


    • The NHS’s site includes a “drinks tracker” (see that can be downloaded to a computer or mobile phone for those who want to see whether they drink within recommended limits.

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