Should Canadians be warned about the risks of alcohol use?

It is well known that alcohol is associated with road crashes, injuries, and cirrhosis of the liver. Less well-known is that alcohol is causally linked to at least eight different types of cancer including mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum, and is among the top three leading risk factors for death from cancer worldwide. In fact, recent surveys suggest that nearly 70% of Canadians are unaware of the link between alcohol and cancer. How can Canadians make informed decisions about their alcohol use if they are unaware of the risks?

Warning labels are mandatory for many other consumer products in Canada, including vitamins, energy drinks and tobacco, to name a few, but alcohol packaging carries no consumer health warnings. The Yukon and the Northwest Territories are the only exception; they manually add warning labels about the risk of drinking during pregnancy at the point of sale. There are at least two dozen countries worldwide that also require warning labels, such as the US, which requires labels on every alcohol product sold, including those manufactured in other countries such as Canada.

The idea of warning labels has met with resistance from both the federal government and the alcohol industry who argue that there is no proof the labels help and so no reason to add them. But is that true? Warning labels on tobacco products have been part of a package of measures that have contributed to dramatic declines in smoking in recent decades. They may also help create a climate of informed opinion that can facilitate more directly effective prevention policies. The Canadian government has provided global leadership in efforts to force tobacco companies to put warning labels on their packaging. Why is alcohol treated differently when we are well aware of huge health and social costs associated with its consumption?

Even if we choose not to heed alcohol warning labels, isn’t it still our right to know about the potential risks of consuming alcohol and how to reduce them? If the government is at least partially responsible for the distribution of alcohol, should it not be their responsibility to make sure that consumers are aware of the risks?

Should alcohol beverage containers in BC have warning labels that inform consumers about the health and safety risks of alcohol consumption?


Author: Kara Thompson

Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia (CARBC)

This is the official blogging home page for CARBC, where professors, students and affiliates alike are able to share their research projects in an informal manner. Here at the Centre we support a wide variety of topics in the substance use and addictions fields, ranging from harm reduction initiatives like a managed alcohol program, to evaluating the effects of new drinking and driving laws.