Know how labels on alcohol bottles may help cut your liquor consumption

Washington: If you are trying to cut down on alcohol consumption, the outcome of a recent study may help you. The recent study suggests that people are better informed about alcohol's harms and may cut down their drinking if they buy alcohol bottles that come with conspicuous labels providing information on the risks of alcohol consumption or drinking guidelines.

"The results provide the first real-world evidence that relatively large, bright yellow alcohol labels with rotating health messages get noticed by consumers and can increase awareness of national drinking guidelines, improve knowledge of alcohol-related health risks, such as cancer, and reduce alcohol sales compared to control sites without the labels," says Erin Hobin, PhD, affiliated scientist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Erin Hobin is the principal investigator on the studies in this series. The series of studies was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

One of the studies, led by Jinhui Zhao, PhD, and Tim Stockwell, PhD, both of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, found that adding such labels to alcohol bottles (300,000 labels in all) decreased total sales of alcohol by 6.9 per cent compared with sales in regions without the new labels.

In another article, researchers led by Nour Schoueri-Mychasiw, PhD, of Public Health Ontario, found that, among 2,049 participants, awareness of Canada's low-risk drinking guidelines increased nearly three times in the site in which the labels were placed compared with a control location. (Canada recommends no more than two drinks a day for women, no more than three for men and at least two alcohol-free days per week.)

A third study generated controversy. Here, Hobin and her colleagues queried the same 2,049 participants about their knowledge of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer. (The cancer label reads: Chief Medical Officer of Health advises alcohol can cause cancer, including breast and colon cancer.)

Before the label intervention, only about 25 per cent of participants knew alcohol consumption can cause cancer. After the labelling, awareness in Yukon rose to 42 per cent, a 10 per cent greater increase in awareness of the alcohol-cancer link relative to the control site in neighbouring Northwest Territories.

However, the cancer label part of these studies was cut short because the alcohol industry protested about the placement of labels on their products. The industry complained that the Yukon Government, who helped coordinate the study and is responsible for alcohol distribution and sales in the territory, did not have the legal authority to place such labels, that the labels violated industry's freedom of expression and that the government was defaming alcohol manufacturers.

Under pressure, the Yukon Government shut down the cancer label research in December 2017, only one month after the study's launch.

"I'd describe this study as a David versus Goliath scenario," says Hobin. "Our Yukon partners and research team members worked tirelessly to execute this study and persevered, despite tremendous adversity." After consultation with legal experts, Stockwell and colleagues concluded, "none of the industry's claims had any merit."

In fact, they note that provincial and territorial governments in Canada could be held liable if they do not warn consumers about the link between alcohol and cancer. (The World Health Organisation declared alcohol as a human carcinogen more than 30 years ago.)

"Warning labels help drinkers to be better informed about alcohol's health risks and prompted many to cut down their drinking," says Stockwell, co-lead on the studies.

(To download our E-paper please click here. The publishers permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal