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Blog: Warning: alcohol-free…may contain alcohol


By Martin Fidler Jones

Tenovus Cancer Care's Policy Officer

When you pop into your local supermarket this weekend looking for a lighter tipple, you’ll be spoilt for choice like never before by the range of ‘alcohol-free’ beers and lagers.

This will be music to the ears of anyone wanting to give alcohol a skip. We all know that alcohol is full of calories and that cutting down is a great way to stay trim. There are also perfectly good religious reasons for wanting to boot the booze too. But until recently we didn’t know just how clear the link between alcohol and cancer was. According to a recent study there is no risk-free level of consumption of alcohol. Put simply, even a small drop gives you some risk of cancer.

At Tenovus Cancer Care we’re all for treating people like adults. Unlike smoking, where the health risks from even just one cigarette are widespread and significant to those around you, having a can of beer isn’t going to damage anyone else’s health. But if you do choose to have a drink, you deserve to know exactly what you’re drinking, right?

Alcohol free does not mean free of alcohol

Would you believe that currently, drinks that are labelled ‘alcohol-free’ can contain up to 0.05% alcohol by volume (ABV)? What’s more, the Welsh Government is considering upping this so that drinks can be up to 0.5% ABV while still being labelled ‘alcohol-free’ – a ten-fold increase. While this still might not sound very strong, in fact you’d have to put away a fair few pints to feel even the smallest effect, we are concerned that the label is really misleading. After all, a vegetarian wouldn’t expect to have up to 0.5% ham in their guacamole, and it still be labelled ‘suitable for vegetarians’, would they?

Religious, medical, recovery from alcoholism, health - there are lots of reasons for wanting to boot the booze altogether. So we’re calling on the Welsh Government to close the loopholes that allow drinks to be labelled as alcohol-free unless they are truly free of alcohol – or make very clear just how much alcohol so-called ‘alcohol-free’ drinks actually contain.

For us, that’s just common sense…

The Welsh Government has been consulting on proposed changes to the labelling of low-alcohol drinks. If you’d like to read our full response, check it out here.