The Department of Health continues to recommend that men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week, and women should drink no more than 14 units. But the guidelines, first introduced in 1987, had no firm scientific basis, according to a report in The Times newspaper.
Richard Smith, a member of the Royal College of Physicians working party that produced the recommendations, told the paper the limits were prompted by “a feeling that you had to say something”. He said: “Those limits were really plucked out of the air. They were not based on any firm evidence at all. It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee.”
The committee’s epidemiologist had confessed that “it’s impossible to say what’s safe and what isn’t” because “we don’t really have any data whatsoever”, Mr Smith said.
The former editor of the British Medical Journal said members of the working party felt obliged to produce the guidelines because of concerns over growing evidence of the chronic damage caused by heavy, long-term drinking.
Mr Smith said he was concerned that this news might prompt some drinkers to ignore the alcohol consumption guidelines. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Perhaps we should have been more honest about (the lack of data) instead of being in the paternalistic doctor mode.”