According to two American academics, warning labels on alcoholic beverages need to be changed to more clearly state the possible risk.
The existing labelling, which hasn’t changed in thirty years, merely emphasises the dangers of drinking when pregnant and when operating machinery, with the caveat that it “may cause health concerns.”
According to the researchers, this is “so downplayed that it almost borders on being misleading.”
There is now solid proof of harm thanks to advancements in science. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated alcohol as a group 1 carcinogen and connected it to a higher risk of developing several cancers. It has also been connected to a variety of illnesses, including various forms of heart disease, pancreatitis, and liver disease.
However, they note that most people are not aware of the most significant health concerns connected to drinking.
According to researchers Anna H. Grummon, PhD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and Marissa G. Hall, PhD, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, “We believe Americans deserve the ability to make well-informed decisions about their alcohol intake.”
Therefore, they concluded, “creating and implementing new alcohol warning labels should be a scientific and policy priority.”
The New England Journal of Medicine published the two researchers’ arguments.
They noted that “alcohol use and its related consequences are nearing a crisis point in the United States.”
The most recent figures from the CDC show that it now causes more than 140,000 fatalities annually in the U.S. A 25% increase in alcohol-related mortality has been reported for 2020, which is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made the issue worse.
They propose that new, well-designed warning labels on alcohol are a sensible strategy to inform consumers and reduce alcohol-related harm.
What Characterizes a Good Warn Label?
The researchers claim that prominent placement, the inclusion of images of some kind, and content rotation to prevent any one message from growing “stale” are all factors that contribute to warning labels’ effectiveness. When compared to smaller, text-only warning labels on the side of the pack, this style of warning has increased the rate at which smokers stop cigarettes.
There is some proof that this kind of labelling can be effective for alcohol as well. They note that alcohol sales dropped from 6% to 10% when sizable cancer risk warnings with illustrations were briefly affixed on the front of alcohol containers in several retailers in Yukon, Canada.
However, revisions were made to the Yukon experiment as a result of pressure from the alcohol industry, and while a general health warning remained, the label regarding an elevated risk of cancer was deleted.
The researchers claim that efforts to educate the public are hampered by the alcohol industry. The industry invests more than $1 billion annually in the promotion of its goods in the United States.
The authors issue a warning that the alcohol industry will have little incentive to share the risks if the government does not step in.
Additionally, some businesses even associate their goods with public health initiatives, such as the October sale of alcoholic beverages decorated with pink ribbons to support efforts to raise money for breast cancer research, despite strong data suggesting that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
Demanding New Labels from Congress
This is not the first time that the alcohol warning labels need to be changed.
Several medical organisations petitioned Congress last year to require all alcoholic beverages to bear a new cancer-specific warning label.
Along with the American Public Health Association, the Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Alcohol Justice, and the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance, the petition was also signed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the American Institute for Cancer Research, and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.
They want a warning label that reads: “WARNING: According to the Surgeon General, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing cancer, especially breast and colon cancer.”
But according to Melissa Maitin-Shepard, a policy expert at the American Institute for Cancer Research, that petition is still waiting.
Along with that, she added, the institute is “trying to campaign for the addition of a cancer warning label to alcoholic beverages through different channels.” “There is a significant need to educate the public about alcohol and cancer risk given the substantial evidence linking alcohol use with at least six types of cancer — and poor knowledge of the alcohol and cancer relationship.”
The lead author of the ASCO statement on alcohol and cancer risk, Noelle LoConte, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, emphasised that there is no question that alcohol is a carcinogen, causing about 5% of cancers worldwide, and that its use has increased during the pandemic.
Initiatives to increase public knowledge of this problem, she said, “may help generate more public support for laws that limit access to alcohol and so reduce the number of alcohol-associated malignancies.” “In ASCO’s statement on alcohol and cancer, we advocate many essential methods to minimise high-risk alcohol consumption, including restricting youth access to alcohol, granting municipalities greater control over the number of alcohol outlets and points of sale, and raising alcohol taxes.”
She did, however, have a minor quibble with one aspect of the New England Journal of Medicine article. It provides a sample graphic that lists alcohol usage as a cause of stomach cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) list of malignancies linked to alcohol does not yet include gastric cancer, she noted. This, in my opinion, highlights a crucial point: these warning signs must include information that have been supported by science.