Should warning labels be put on alcohol?

HALIFAX – A Halifax researcher is reviving the debate over whether warning labels should be put on alcohol bottles.

Mohammed Al-Hamdani wrote an article in the Journal of Public Health Policy making a case that labels should be placed on alcohol to deter people from drinking while driving, underage and pregnant.

The Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Saint Mary’s University said that warning labels on cigarettes have been proven successful, so the same idea should be tested on alcohol.

“[We should] Test how consumers perceive them and how they recall the health warnings,” he said.
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Al-Hamdani said the warning labels, which would fall under federal jurisdiction, could range from graphic pictures to bold text.

“If that presents some kind of benefit in terms of altered perceptions to risky and heavy drinking patterns then we’ve got a possible public health benefit and we can think about introducing health warning policies for alcohol,” he said.

But the idea is not getting much support from the beer industry.

“Alcohol is not tobacco. You can drink a moderate amount of beer and derive some health benefits from it. You can’t say the same for tobacco,” said Luke Harford, president of Beer Canada. Beer Canada is the voice of the national beer industry and represents 90 per cent of beer made in Canada.

One local micro-brewery said that drinking needs to be more about quality than quantity.

“It’s really about people opening up a larger bottle and perhaps taking a moment to just savour the product, really enjoy the complexity [of it] as opposed to ‘how can we get drunk here?'” said Brian Titus, president of the Garrison Brewing Company.
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Those in the health industry say that the idea of warning labels on alcohol needs to be explored.

“We have warning labels on tobacco. We have nutritional information on foods. Why don’t we have more information on potential risks, short term and long term, for alcohol so at the end of the day consumers can make their own choice?” said Dr. Robert Strang, a representative from the Council of Chief Medical Officers to the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee.

Others say the warning labels could be part of a cultural shift when it comes to alcohol.

“I think anything that promotes the effects of alcohol and raises awareness of alcohol consumption and what it can do is a good thing,” said Kevin Chapman, director of health policy and promotion for Doctors Nova Scotia.

“It’s all about moderation and it’s all about making an informed choice and understanding if you drink alcohol – and certainly if you drink it with a lot of things or if you drink a lot of it – it’s a significant health risk.”

However, Al-Hamdani is quick to say the idea isn’t to get people to stop drinking completely.

“I’m not suggesting prohibition. What I’m suggesting is a policy measure to increase the awareness of people about risky drinking and heavy drinking problems,” he said.


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