Warning labels for booze


in Canada, Law, Rants, Science

According to a study in the British Medical Journal, alcohol could be responsible for 10% of cancer in men and 3% in women. The scientists performing the study examined data from eight European countries. Reporting on the study, the CBC raised the question of whether there should be warning labels on alcoholic beverages.

I think there should be. They should warn about the risk of addiction, about damage to unborn children, and about other well-documented risks. These days, there are warning labels on everything from plastic bags (choking hazard!) to coffee cups (this beverage is extremely hot!). When governments put warning labels on some things with long-term health consequences, it implies that anything without such a label is considered safe by the government, or at least substantially safer than the things that do bear warnings. Given that alcohol is one of the most lethal drugs consumed by human beings, along with tobacco, it just makes sense that there be warning labels there too.

I think it’s absurd that Canada is considering putting warning labels on beer to alert people of the presence of wheat, but not considering putting on labels advising that if you drink enough of the stuff, it could kill you in a matter of hours.

P.S. Non-alcoholic beer can be a good option for those who enjoy beer, but want to avoid alcohol for whatever reason.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

oleh April 14, 2011 at 11:29 am

Warning labels on alcohol: I agree that consumption of alcohol can cause problems but generally only when over consumed. I expect this occurs in a small minority of cases. I believe the vast majority drink responsibly. I expect that the minority that drink irresponsibly are unlikely to be dissuaded by warning labels.

The goal is to discourage irresponsible drinking which can have devastating effects on the person, their family and society.
What more could we do about that.

One suggestion is to increase taxes on alcohol somewhat higher and use that excess on programs specifically to help that small minority to avoid over consumption. Perhaps one starting point could be programs to discourage binge drinking among youth. I am concerned that youth binge drinking can be a path to long term alcoholism for some.

Another thought is to ban advertising of alcohol. This advertising is extremely well done and effective. (One measure of its effectiveness is that the most popular beers are not the ones that taste good, but the ones that are advertised the most). This advertising makes me want to drink beer.

alena April 14, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I wonder how much effect even the very large and graphic labels on cigarette packages have? I also wonder why they do not have more deterrent impact. Are we so desensitized by advertising that we ignore the warning completely?
I have a very powerful fear of alcoholism as I had an alcoholic on both sides of my family and I heard how much it hurt their families. There is still an admiration, particularly among the younger consumers, for drinking excessively. Advertising reinforces this attitude and also glamorizes the act. There is nothing glamorous about an inebriated person. I would also favor banning advertising in magazines and on TV.

Milan April 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I think telling people that alcohol use causes cancer would make people drink a bit less alcohol. That is why companies that sell the drug will probably fiercely oppose any such proposal.

oleh April 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I am sure the companies who sell alcohol would be opposed to a ban on advertising of alcohol, or a graphic labelling of the risks of over consumption of alcohol.

I wonder how they would feel instead if the true cost of alcoholism, including public health care costs, was put on alcohol as an additional tax on alcohol. We could then use that additional tax to fund both the health care costs to deal with alcoholism and a program to educate people about alcoholism.

oleh April 14, 2011 at 4:13 pm

It is interesting , perhaps co-incidental, that a new entry on this blog subject on the blog subject on August 29, 2008 co-incides with the discussion from today’s new subject on warning labels for booze. The discussion seesm quite popular having generated 82 comments.

I enjoy de-alcoholized beer as much as alcoholized beer at much less price and much lower consequence. Maybe the promotion of de-alcolohized beer can contribute to the solution.

Tristan April 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm

“I wonder how they would feel instead if the true cost of alcoholism, including public health care costs, was put on alcohol as an additional tax on alcohol. ”

Taxes on alcohol are already very high. Why should the “true cost” be a tax additional to the additional taxes which alcohol is already subject to?

Milan April 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Drinkers may already pay more in tax than they cost in extra health care. If so, they are not a drain on society from that fiscal perspective. That said, the suffering of drinkers matters, as does the suffering they impose on others through harmful behaviours that often result from alcohol use, like impaired driving and violence.

. April 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Making wine for alcoholics

GC and I made 4,000 bottles of wine yesterday. It’s for the Managed Alcohol Program at The Oaks, which is under the Shepherds of Good Hope umbrella. We’re the new volunteer assistant winemakers.

There’s a wine-making room on the premises, where they make the equivalent of 4,000 bottles every five weeks. Making the wine instead of buying it saves about $130,000 per year.

We empty nine 10-pound bladders of syrup into a 45-gallon drum, fill it with water, and sprinkle nine envelopes of yeast on top. Then we move on to the next drum. It’s sticky work, but easy. In five weeks we’ll filter it; they tell us that’s the hard part. (We won’t actually bottle it, by the way. It’s hooked up to a draft line, and will be on tap at the front desk, where it’s dispensed to residents.)

The residents are all formerly hardcore street-level alcoholics. These are the kind of alcoholics who might have drunk aftershave when the liquor stores were closed. Most of them are elderly and appear to have chronic health issues and disabilities in addition to alcoholism.

The program, which converted an old motel into a residential community, provides them with a room, meals, access to health care, social workers, exercise programs, homemade alcohol and rolled cigarettes.

oleh April 15, 2011 at 7:32 am

I realize that the tax on alcohol is very high. However, I expect that it does not cover the overall costs to our public health care system, loss of productivity and social and family dysfunction caused by over-consumption of alcohol.

Milan April 15, 2011 at 7:52 am

The monetary cost is one issue, I agree. Another is fair warning. People may have a general awareness that alcohol is unhealthy, especially for your liver. More specific warnings may cause them to think more about the issue. For instance, from the CBC article: “Too much drinking was also blamed for seven per cent of breast cancers in German women and 28 per cent of colorectal cancers in Spanish men”.

crf April 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm

People might want to read this:

Basically, the old adage rings true: Never rely on a Newspaper to reliably report on a scientific argument.

Milan April 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm

The conclusions of the study are quite clear: “In western Europe, an important proportion of cases of cancer can be attributable to alcohol consumption, especially consumption higher than the recommended upper limits. These data support current political efforts to reduce or to abstain from alcohol consumption to reduce the incidence of cancer. “

. May 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm

According to background material for the conference, based on research by University of Ottawa professor Holly Johnson, most sexual violence takes place between people who know each other, and alcohol “is so common in sexual violence that it is considered by many to be ‘the date-rape drug.’ “

The posters -carrying the tag line “Don’t Be THAT Guy” -will be displayed in bars and restaurants across the city, in both French and English. A third poster uses only text -and two strategically placed asterisks -to be even more blunt: “Just because she’s drunk doesn’t mean she wants to f**k.”

“When I show the poster to middle-aged people they’re shocked, but when I show it to my staff and to youth, they find it very informative, and that says to me that it gets the point across,” says Steve Monuk of York Entertainment, which owns 16 restaurants and bars in the ByWard Market. Monuk, a member of the area’s safety and security committee, hopes to put the poster in the washrooms of his company’s bars.

. January 9, 2016 at 10:08 pm

“No safe level of drinking”: UK alcohol guidelines tightened

“No safe level of drinking”: recommended drinking guidelines in the UK have been sharply tightened to no more than 14 units a week (equivalent to six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine) for both men and women, and no alcohol at all for pregnant women.

. November 8, 2017 at 6:09 pm

Cancer Doctors Cite Risks of Drinking Alcohol

The American Society of Clinical Oncology, which represents many of the nation’s top cancer doctors, is calling attention to the ties between alcohol and cancer. In a statement published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the group cites evidence that even light drinking can slightly raise a woman’s risk of breast cancer and increase a common type of esophageal cancer.

Heavy drinkers face much higher risks of mouth and throat cancer, cancer of the voice box, liver cancer and, to a lesser extent, colorectal cancers, the group cautions.

“The message is not, ‘Don’t drink.’ It’s, ‘If you want to reduce your cancer risk, drink less. And if you don’t drink, don’t start,’” said Dr. Noelle LoConte, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the ASCO statement. “It’s different than tobacco where we say, ‘Never smoke. Don’t start.’ This is a little more subtle.”

Other medical groups have cited the risks of alcohol as a possible cause of cancer. But this is the first time that ASCO has taken a stand.

Milan November 27, 2017 at 9:14 pm

I’ve never before seen anything like this in a pub menu. These are from Pub Italia on Preston Street in Ottawa:

There are BAC calculators which run on smartphones, where you enter the volume and alcohol content of any drinks you consume and it estimates your BAC over time. Unfortunately, there seem to be none in the Apple store which will run on my ancient iPhone 4 running iOS 7.

R.K. November 27, 2017 at 11:32 pm

If this table is accurate there is no surprise in why pubs don’t want to advertise the numbers. Regardless of how heavy you are having 3-4 drinks makes you a danger to the community. That is not an idea that meshes well with good tips for servers or profits for pubs.

. January 7, 2018 at 11:07 pm

Yukon Government Gives In to Liquor Industry on Warning Label Experiment

The brightly colored labels began appearing on bottles and cans of beer, wine and liquor in a government-owned store in Yukon Territory a month before Christmas.

The brainchild of a research project financed by the Canadian government on how to prevent excessive drinking, the labels warned of the health risks of alcohol consumption and were meant to be in place for eight months as an experiment.

But within a month, the experiment was halted.

The government stopped affixing the labels after several alcohol industry lobbying groups challenged both the research study and the legality of the government’s participation.

John Streicker, the member of the Yukon government’s cabinet responsible for the territory’s liquor stores, said he believed that the government faced litigation if it continued to use the researchers’ labels.

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