- The Consumer Federation of America asked the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to add statements that link alcohol consumption to cancer on beverage labels.
- The letter pointed to research that estimates alcohol is the third largest contributor to cancer in women and the fourth largest contributor in men. It also stated that no U.S. public health authority advises people to start drinking if they do not already do so. The group also cited comments from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that questioned claims that moderate alcohol consumption can be beneficial for health.
- "The industry has succeeded in putting a health halo around alcohol. The government has the responsibility to give consumers the scientific information they need to make informed decisions about alcohol, just as it does with tobacco," Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at CFA, said in a statement.
The link between alcohol consumption and health concern is nothing new. Back in 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a carcinogen. However, in spite of health officials and policy advocates proposing to add "cancer risk" to the federal labeling efforts at the time, the effort was halted due to industry lobbying. Although it may be easy to assume that a label can be overlooked, repeatedly facing a warning every time a bottle makes its way to the table could persuade consumer opinion.
Labels are a bit like marketing. The repeated information with the same design and placement eventually becomes familiar and in some cases can be mistaken for common knowledge. That's why warning statements on alcohol regarding motor vehicle operation and drinking while pregnant seem obvious. The link between alcohol and cancer though is not. Surveys have found that fewer than half of U.S. adults know that alcohol may increase the risk of cancer, and the level of awareness may actually be declining.
In recent years, red wine has been linked to heart health and moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer's. Despite this good news, the link to cardiovascular health may be in jeopardy. Last year, the New York Times reported that a study by the National Institutes of Health that was attempting to establish a link between moderate alcohol consumption and heart health was partially funded by Heineken and Carlsberg, raising questions about the integrity of alcohol-related studies.
Now, the Consumer Federation of America is looking to further consumer awareness about the risks associated with alcohol by putting another government-approved risk label on beverages with an ABV. The group highlighted a 2016 Surgeon General's report that found "even one drink per day may increase the risk of breast cancer," as grounds for the change. The Consumer Federation argued the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act requires Congress to consult with the surgeon general and amend labels in accordance with available scientific information.
Despite this new push for updated labels, this battle is not new and the U.S. isn't the only country fighting it. Last year, a small Canadian town's addition of cancer warning labels to bottles of wine and liquor brought new attention to the debate. While this addition is small, it may have huge implications. Government ruling bodies in both Ireland and England are working on policies to add labels to alcoholic beverages that warn consumers about the potential cancer risks they possess. In California, the law requires that signs warning of cancer risk be posted in restaurants and stores that sell booze.
If this practice becomes more widespread, it could dramatically affect the alcohol industry. Already, the legalization of marijuana in many states has prompted drinkers to forego alcohol in favor of a different way to relax. IRI analysts predicted that if marijuana is legalized across the U.S., the beer industry could lose up to $2 billion in sales. Similarly, the market for wine and low- and no-alcohol beer has continued to grow as demand for spirited beverages dries up.
If the government adds another to limit alcohol consumption, alcoholic products of all kinds could be facing a sobering future.