Improving public knowledge about alcohol harm will increase government appetite for regulation, write Sir Ian Gilmore and colleagues in a new Perspectives article published online in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology this week.

Alcohol causes a huge burden on global health and is the biggest single preventable factor in premature death and disability in adults aged 15 to 49. Effective legislation to limit the global health burden of alcohol relies on public support in order to be passed. However, policies to lower alcohol consumption are often portrayed as limiting personal freedoms, thereby reducing their popularity. The Scottish parliament was the first European country to vote in favour of minimum unit pricing in 2012, but the policy is yet to be implemented following legal challenges from industry groups.

The authors point to the international success of tobacco control in reducing deaths from smoking and emphasise the need for comparable action. They also add that ill-effects are not only seen in heavy drinkers, but also in innocent bystanders, such as children.

They propose that ‘information and education might be more effective in creating support for effective public health policy rather than directly changing individual behaviour. Scientists and clinicians are most likely to have a role in these areas to rebalance our troubled relationship with society’s favourite drug.’

You can access the full article from the Nature Reviews website here.