When Booze Labels Carry Health Warnings, Drinking Declines: Study

MONDAY, May 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) — If warning labels on cigarette packs discourage smoking, could warning labels on alcohol products discourage drinking? Researchers in Canada decided to find out.

In the study, which began in 2017, the researchers applied about 300,000 colorful, highly visible warning labels to 98% of alcohol containers in the largest liquor store in the Yukon, which has Canada’s highest rate of alcohol use.

After the warning labels were applied to bottles and cans of alcohol at the store in Yukon’s capital, the store’s per capita sales fell by 6.6% compared to stores where products were not labeled.

Analysts from the Canadian Institute for Substance Research in Victoria, British Columbia, also found that people who bought labeled alcohol better recalled national drinking guidelines and cancer warnings.

Specifically, consumers who saw the warning labels were 10% more likely to recall the link between alcohol and cancer; three times more likely to be aware of Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines; and 50% more likely to remember daily low-risk drinking limits.

The findings were published May 4 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“Despite the best efforts of Canada’s alcohol-industry lobbyists to shut down our study and keep consumers in the dark, we found evidence the warning labels helped drinkers in Yukon to be better informed about alcohol’s health risks, and prompted many to cut down their drinking,” said study co-leader Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria-based institute.

“This is an especially vital public health intervention now, as we see people at risk of increasing their alcohol intake as they isolate at home during the COVID-19 outbreak,” he added in a university news release.

The researchers recommend that alcohol containers carry warning labels to include health risk information, Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines and number of standard drinks in each bottle or can.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on alcohol use and health.