The report sets the new recommended weekly alcohol limit for men at less than half that of France, Italy and Spain and argues that there is 'no justification' for drinking for health reasons.
Industry leaders said the report failed to clarify that low levels of drinking remained safe and that they would be calling for the Government to release more 'practical, evidence-based' guidelines.
How have things changed?
The new Department of Health limits have reduced the recommended weekly alcohol limit for men from 21 units to 14 units per week – equivalent to six pints of beer – the same level as for women.
Pregnant women have also been warned that it is unsafe to drink any alcohol at all during pregnancy, compared to the previous limit of one to two units a week.
The report said that drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer.
The new limits – which come in to effect today – replace those set out 21 years ago.
The Department of Health said the links between alcohol and cancer were not fully understood in the original guidelines.
Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: “What we are aiming to do with these guidelines is give the public the latest and most up to date scientific information so that they can make informed decisions about their own drinking and the level of risk they are prepared to take."
The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) warned that the Government risked ‘confusing’ consumers over safe drinking practices.
ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The guidelines draw a link between alcohol intake and associated health risks, but go on to say that regular drinking levels increase the chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition by just one per cent.
“By the Government’s own admission, drinking at regular levels is no more dangerous than a host of everyday activities. What is being lost here is the fact that low levels of drinking remain very low risk.
“What consumers need is clear, practical advice based on undisputed evidence to allow customers to make informed choices. There seems to be little agreement, even among health experts, about the evidence to back up the latest proposals.”
Nicholls added that levels of alcohol consumption had been ‘falling steadily’ and were currently at their lowest rate this century.
“Much of the work of the licensed hospitality sector in recent years has been focused on providing consumers with greater choice and our venues remain committed to promoting healthy, responsible drinking practices in a supervised environment,” she said.
“The ALMR will be responding to the Government’s consultation to push for clear and concise, information that is practical, evidence-based and which we feel is robust and reliable.”
Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said the review meant the UK’s maximum recommended alcohol limits were now some of the lowest worldwide.
“In other countries, most guidelines recognise the difference in terms of physiology and metabolism between men and women,” said Simmonds.
“The new recommendations for men, in particular, put the UK well out of line with other comparable countries. The USA has 24.5 units. France 26, Italy 31.5, and Spain 35 units.
“Reducing the guidelines means that a whole new group of males are classified as ‘at risk’ drinkers and there is a real danger that consumers will just ignore the advice.“