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Support for Graphic Health Warnings on Alcohol Bottles Grows in Canada

By Paul Gaita 01/06/16

A number of studies show that adding warning labels to alcohol can curb problem drinking. 

Warning Label
Photo via Shutterstock

A new study suggests that health warnings on alcohol packaging could help to curb problem drinking has added fuel to a push in Canada to make such labels a reality. Labels that inform consumer about the health risks involved in consuming alcoholic beverages are required in the United States and many countries in the European Union, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency only requires such statements on alcoholic beverages imported from the United States; beer, wine and liquor made in Canada is only required to list alcohol by volume, country of origin and in some cases, added allergens, gluten sources and sulphites. 

With varying statistics showing that alcohol consumption in Canada is higher than the global average, a growing number of studies have been published which indicate that warning labels placed on alcohol bottles could help to curb problem drinking in that country. Government studies in Ontario and independent research in British Columbia have found that individuals’ beliefs about alcohol were changed significantly when labels were added to packaging that underscored the connection between alcoholic beverages and liver cancer and other conditions. 

The latest of these, issued by researchers from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, involved 92 adults, who were randomly assigned one of four possible labels for alcoholic beverages. The variables were labels without warnings; with text-only warnings; with warnings that included a picture; and warnings with pictures on plain packaging. Respondents were then asked to give their impressions on the product and the type of consumer who might buy that product, based on each variable. 

The study showed that bottles with warnings were less positively received than those without, and plain bottles with warnings and pictures showed the most consistent significant results. The study authors concluded that health warnings could change consumers’ opinions on alcohol products, and advised greater research into making such labels a reality. Representatives from Canada’s liquor industry expressed skepticism about the efficacy of such labels; Jan Westcott, head of Spirits Canada, was quoted as saying, “When people are consuming the products, whether at home or in a bar, how closely do you think that correlates to the kind of experimentation and testing they’re doing? A lot of these studies attempt to mimic what goes on in real life, and fail.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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