- A small Canadian town’s addition of cancer warning labels to bottles of wine and liquor has brought new attention to a decades-old debate between lawmakers and the alcohol industry, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
- 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. The alcohol industry is fighting these proposed changes.
- Multiple studies in recent years have given credence to the warning, including one in 2017 from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which says “alcohol use — whether light, moderate, or heavy — is linked with increasing the risk of several leading cancers.”
The health impact of alcohol has flared up again on the international stage as more studies in recent years mention its health risks. A 2017 review of previous studies, published in the the American Society of Clinical Oncology, found that while heavy, long-term drinkers had the greatest risk of developing cancer, even modest alcohol consumption may increase the risk.
As international and domestic ruling bodies propose changes to how the public is warned about these correlations, the alcohol industry is pushing back — underscoring a battle that goes back decades. In 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a carcinogen. There also was a proposal to add "cancer risk" to the federal labeling efforts at the time, but both were shut down thanks to industry lobbying.
Today, not much has changed.
In the U.S., the greatest upset in warning the public about the cancer risk associated with drinking has come from the state that crafts some of the country’s best wine: California.
The Golden State's government had previously required that signs warning of cancer risk be posted in restaurants and stores that sell booze. Now, they also have to include a link to a website that offers more specific information about how consuming alcohol can increase the risk for a variety of cancers.
The multi-billion dollar alcohol industry has been fighting these types of labels. They likely point to the fact that a relatively low number of cancer deaths in the U.S. (3.5%) are attributed to alcohol consumption.
Unlike some slow-starting issues — such as menu labeling and GMO labeling — that grew to capture the attention of both consumers and lawmakers, concern over cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption doesn’t appear to have gained any momentum in the U.S. This is likely due to effective efforts by industry lobbying, but also a cultural mindset that just doesn’t want to hear that their nightly glass of wine or cocktail could increase their risk of breast cancer.
Still, as consumers try to eat better and grow more health-conscious, this issue could eventually start to gain some traction. If warning labels do make their way onto all bottles of alcohol, it could hurt sales. It’s one thing to read about a new study online, and another to be confronted with that information every time you reach into the fridge or your bar at home.