Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator, said:

“The recommendation for variable guidance by age without context would be counterproductive, people will turn off from what they see is unrealistic and complex advice and stop engaging with moderate drinking messages. All the evidence shows that effective alcohol messages and labelling must be easily understandable and actionable.

“The recommendation that those under 40 should not drink at all is totally unrealistic – especially considering trends in the UK show that this age group is already drinking at lower and more moderate levels compared to older generations.

“It is interesting that the study backs up previous evidence of some health benefits of moderate drinking for people above 40, but we reiterate our view that people should not drink to improve their health.

“In the UK our best practice ensures that consumers are empowered to understand low risk drinking and are able to make informed choices. Our Code of Practice ensures responsible marketing in the UK which does not allege any therapeutic benefits from drinking alcohol.”



There has been over a decade of falls on many measures of alcohol-related harm in the UK, with persistent and sustained declines in overall population alcohol consumption and harmful drinking behaviours:

  • Since 2004, annual alcohol consumption in the UK has fallen by 15%[1].
  • In England, there has been a 25% drop in reported binge drinking over the last decade[2].
  • The proportion of drinkers who drank on five or more days in a week decreased by 16%, with the average number of drinking occasions now 2.8 days a week[3].
  • The moderate majority of UK adults (77%) either do not drink alcohol or stay below the UK Government’s lower-risk guidelines of 14 units per week[4].
  • Average weekly alcohol consumption amongst English drinkers is estimated to be around 11 units, well below the Chief Medical Officer weekly guidelines[5].


[1] WHO, May 2021

2 From 20% of English drinkers drinking in excess of defined as exceeding 8 (men)/6 (women) units on the heaviest day of drinking in 2009 to 15% in 2019. NHS England, December 2020

3 Decreased from 12% in 2014 to 10% in 2019, NHS England, November 2019

4 NHS England, December 2020 / Scottish Health Survey, September 2020/ National Survey for Wales, September 2020 / Health Survey Northern Ireland, December 2020

5 OHID: Wider impacts of COVID-19 on health monitoring tool, March 2022

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said:

“We believe in having clear information on pack that aids rather than alienates consumers. It is likely that having varied guidance for people would be confusing, counterproductive and also potentially patronising.

“We support the inclusion of CMO guidance on labelling which features on the vast majority of UK alcohol products. Equally nearly half of products show calories on labels (Portman Group, November 2021) which is more likely to be useful to someone looking at their diets.”

Information on alcohol labelling taken from the Portman Group ‘Informing Alcohol Consumers 2021 UK Market Review” November 2021.

There is a moderate majority in the UK who either do not drink, or drink within the CMO’s low-risk guidelines – 77% based on combining latest data on adult drinking from Health Survey for England; Scottish Health Survey; National Survey for Wales; Health Survey Northern Ireland

Response to World Heart Federation’s no safe alcohol level claims

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said:

“It is important not to exaggerate the risk of moderate drinking and unduly alarm responsible consumers who are more than able to make informed decisions and enjoy alcohol sensibly if they chose to do so.

“Responsible drinking forms part of a balanced lifestyle for the moderate majority, the four in five adults drinking within the Chief Medical Officer’s 14 unit a week low-risk guidelines or not drinking at all. We continue to review the studies with interest, and there is a body of evidence suggesting a low level of risk for low-to-moderate drinkers.

“However, we recognise that everyone’s circumstances are different and for some people there is no safe level of drinking, we therefore encourage consumers to take a sensible and measured approach to risk.

“Through the Portman Group Code of Practice we have ensured that for over 25 years alcohol producers do not make health claims in their marketing and packaging.”

For further details about the J-curve effect:

In reply to the Alcohol marketing frequency analysis carried out during the 2020 Six Nations Championship 

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said:

“The alcohol industry takes a responsible approach to sponsorship, regulated by the Portman Group Sponsorship Code. It ensures that children are protected from alcohol marketing at sports, music and cultural events and that marketing is appropriate. This is an approach that we know works, with many producers using their brands to showcase responsibility messages at major events.

Socially responsible sponsorship is needed more than ever before as sport and culture seek to recover from the financial challenges of COVID-19. Bans would be disproportionate and cut the funding that is so critical to grassroots sports and events for no tangible effect on public health.”

Read the report here.

The Portman Group has published its response to the latest draft World Health Organisation (WHO) action plan to implement the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. We are concerned that the action plan is moving away from the stated aims of the strategy. We call on the WHO to commit to a renewed focus on harmful drinking and to recognise the industry as a constructive partner in tackling harm.

As the UK alcohol industry voluntary regulator and social responsibility body we have been committed to promoting responsible drinking for over 30 years. We have worked in conjunction with the sector and others to reduce harms and have seen significant declines over most metrics in the decades we have operated.

Perception of the industry

We are disappointed that the latest draft continues to frame the industry negatively and therefore does not utilise the ideas, enthusiasm and energy that the sector has in dealing with harm. It fails to recognise the ongoing work of the industry to promote moderation as well as tackling alcohol harm in both the UK and around the world, and its engagement as a constructive partner.

We believe the UK market stands as an international example of industry best practice and the substantial progress that has been made to tackle the harmful use of alcohol in the country. This has been achieved, in part, through the ongoing success of voluntary cross-industry initiatives, as well as public-private partnerships implementing public health initiatives which should not be downplayed in the current action plan.

There has been significant progress made in tackling alcohol-related harm. The moderate majority of consumers drink responsibly and the work to get here should be recognised and used as a foundation for further work.

A commitment to alcohol responsibility is evident in initiatives across the whole of the sector. This includes the high retailing standards to prevent underage sales by the UK Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, who operate the Challenge 25 scheme where 99% of retailers seek evidence that people looking under the age of 25 are of legal age to purchase alcohol.

The sector also voluntarily funds a number of partnership schemes at a local level such as Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP). Over the past 14 years, CAP have worked across 216 projects with local authorities, police, schools and local retailers to prevent underage drinking and alcohol harm to young people through a three-pillar model to educate, prevent underage sales and engage young people in positive activity to enhance their confidence, health and wellbeing[i].

Let’s focus on reducing harmful alcohol use

There is more work to be done and the action plan could be used to galvanise action. It should focus on reducing harmful alcohol use. Unfortunately it is unhelpfully diluting its focus to emphasise a reduction in overall use and the blunt measure of alcohol consumption per capita. This is especially pertinent given the polarisation in alcohol consumption and harm witnessed under COVID-19, where alcohol related deaths in England and Wales rose by 20% from 6,209 in 2019 to 7,423 in 2020[ii]. Surely this emphasises that we need to focus resources at targeted support and treatment for those drinking to highest harm.

However, the plan focuses on reducing overall alcohol consumption seeking an unrealistic 20% target to be achieved in less than a decade. It needlessly focuses capacity and resources on those individuals already drinking at moderate low levels which is close to 4 in 5 people in the UK[iii]. This is a chance to help the world come up with recommendations to reduce those drinking at the highest harm levels which, if the plan remains unchanged, will be missed and by shifting its focus away from harmful drinking, it will likely undermine the commitment of the strategy to a harm reduction approach.

Drinking and pregnancy

In the spirit of focusing on harm, we also welcome and are supportive of the inclusion of taking appropriate action to ‘prevent drinking in pregnancy and prevent foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)’ in the action plan, as an important targeted step in order to prevent alcohol harm.

We also welcome the removal of the previous wording regarding the ‘prevention of drinking among women of childbearing age’. This sentence was ill considered and was language that was counterproductive to the vital intention to prevent FASD.

This point echoes the need for the strategy to return to a focus on alcohol misuse and harm, rather than a broad attempt to reduce all consumption regardless that the majority of drinkers drink within Government recommended guidelines. When encouraging moderation and responsibility, it is essential that the steps seem reasonable, proportionate and appropriate, otherwise it may result in the counterproductive situation where people potentially ignore public health advice.

Valuing the regulators

We believe the WHO should also take note of the success of the self-regulatory and co-regulatory system which exists in the UK, with the Portman Group working alongside the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Ofcom to ensure that alcohol marketing is covered in the round across all platforms. Portman Group and ASA data shows widespread industry compliance and support for this system, ensuring that alcohol is only marketed to adults in a responsible manner.

The Portman Group Code of Practices on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks and Alcohol Sponsorship are a prime example of how self-regulatory action, with wide industry buy-in across the supply chain from producers to retailers, can have a demonstrable impact in protecting the most vulnerable in society and is a legitimate model to be included in the Action Plan. The Code of Practice, now in its 25th year, ensures that alcohol is marketed in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not have particular appeal to vulnerable consumers. Respect for the complaints process has led to more than 160 irresponsible and inappropriate products either being re-branded or removed from the market, in turn driving industry changes and protecting consumers.

The success of self-regulatory and voluntary measures, combined with a variety of initiatives from the UK Government to tackle alcohol-related harm, also underscores that the action plan should recognise the broad suite of policy options and interventions included in the Global Strategy for reducing harmful alcohol use.

The success of industry initiatives also demonstrate that the sector has a serious commitment to tackling harm in the UK and across the world. The industry is responsible and should continue to be seen as an active and willing partner as part of a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to tackling harmful alcohol use.

What next?

The Global Strategy is an opportunity to make the most of all the ideas, initiatives and investment from NGOs, governments, industry and bodies such as the Portman Group to tackle alcohol harm. This should be the focus of the plan and an opportunity to be captured. We hope that we can play our part and for the successes and learnings which come from the sector to be utilised.

The baton is now handed to the UK Government. We support much of their submission which recognises the need to focus on harm. We hope that the UK’s voice will be heard within WHO and that the action plan can be drawn back to delivering the agreed strategy. We stand ready to work with Government and the WHO.

[i] Community Alcohol Partnerships 2020 Annual Report, accessed July 2021

[ii] ONS: Quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales, May 2021

[iii] NHS England, December 2020 / Scottish Health Survey, September 2020/ National Survey for Wales, September 2020 / Health Survey Northern Ireland, December 2020

Response to WHO Proposed Global Alcohol Plan 2022-2030

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

We are extremely concerned by the WHO calling on countries to prevent drinking among women of childbearing age in their latest action plan. As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science. It is wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way and associate women’s alcohol-related risks with those of children and pregnant people.”

We had an incredible response to this story with coverage all over the world, with a total of 29 international stories including in the USA, Ireland and Australia. In the UK our quote was used in all of the nationals, with four papers covering this on their front pages.

Response to the Global Drug Survey 2020 Results

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK has issued a response to the Global Drug Survey’s key findings for 2020, published today. Commenting on the survey, Portman Group CEO, Matt Lambert said:

“The narrow sample in the survey ends up mischaracterising the UK’s drinking habits. UK wide Government and NGO surveys consistently show that the moderate majority, 4 in 5 UK adults, drink responsibly, within the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines. Furthermore, this same data shows a decline in harmful drinking patterns, such as binge drinking, with UK drinkers below many of their Western European counterparts.”

The Portman Group would note the following trend data:

  • Since 2004, annual alcohol consumption in the UK has fallen by 13%. (WHO, May 2020)
  • Heavy episodic drinking’ (consumption of 60 grams or more of pure alcohol) on at least one occasion in the past 30 days among UK adults rank well below many of our Western European neighbours, such as Ireland, Germany, Belgium and France. (WHO, July 2020)
  • Furthermore, binge drinking has fallen by a quarter amongst English drinkers over the last ten years, and by close to a fifth amongst Scottish drinkers. (NHS England, December 2020 / Scottish Health Survey, September 2020)