Leading experts including the AER Foundation are urging the Federal Government to make new alcohol health warning labels mandatory to help reduce the harms caused by alcohol.

They want to get the message out there that drinking any alcohol can harm unborn babies, damage young developing brains and increase the risk of cancer.

The Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council have also recommended the use of alcohol labelling.

AER Foundation Chief Executive Michael Thorn said “Consumers should be armed with clear information on the harms that result from alcohol misuse. International research on health warning labels tells us that they are effective in both raising awareness of health risks and changing people’s health behaviour.”

He added “Health warning labels need to be implemented and administered by the government, not the alcohol industry. All of the evidence says that alcohol industry regulation does not work.

The CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), Michael Moore said “We know that alcohol product labels are an effective way of conveying the facts to consumers at the point of sale or consumption. The design and implementation of health warning labels should be evidence-based and executed by governments and health authorities, not the alcohol industry.”

Many Australian are not aware of the specific impacts of alcohol misuse. A recent poll found that Australians associated illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver (88%) and liver cancer (69%) with alcohol misuse, far fewer are aware of the link with breast cancer (11%), and mouth and throat cancer (24%)*.

“We know that many Australians aren’t aware of all the short and long-term health and Social problems caused by alcohol,” Mr Moore said.

It is proposed that the alcohol health warning labels be displayed on alcoholic drink bottles/packaging and include the following information:
• That there be at least five health warning labels, including one specifically relating to drinking during pregnancy
• Health warning labels should comprise both text and symbol
• Labels need to be placed consistently on the front of the product and clearly distinguishable from the rest of the label
• Labels should be implemented as part of a comprehensive public education regime
• Labels should be evaluated and refreshed at least every three years

*The AER Foundation-commissioned Galaxy study was conducted in January 2011. It was a national online survey (excluding NT) and was weighted by age, gender and location (based on ABS population estimates) to the national population. There were 1,009 respondents aged 18 years and above.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: AER