Warning labels on cans and bottles helps curb drinking, B.C. study suggests

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New study says alcohol warning labels cut consumption
With alcohol use rising during the COVID-19 crisis, a new study from the University of Victoria says warning labels reduce alcohol consumption. Brad MacLeod reports. – May 4, 2020

Are your booze bottles adding up a bit quicker lately? You aren’t alone.

According to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, sales went up 40 per cent in March, when the COVID-19 crisis began to take hold.

READ MORE: Liquor stores across B.C. see record sales during coronavirus pandemic

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A new study from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, suggests bright-coloured warning labels on bottles could help counter a rise in alcohol consumption, especially under the stress of the pandemic.

In 2017, about 300,000 labels were applied to alcohol bottles and cans at liquor stores in Whitehorse, the country’s highest-drinking region.

The labels carried health warnings and the national drinking guidelines: two daily standard drinks for women and three for men, and at least two days a week with no drinking at all.

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“What we found, astonishingly, was about a six-and-a-half-per-cent reduction in consumption in Whitehorse compared to the outside areas and the Northwest Territories,” Tim Stockwell, the institute’s director and co-lead of the study that was published this month in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“This is an especially vital public health intervention now, as we see people at risk of increasing their alcohol intake as they isolate at home during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

However, the label warning about alcohol causing cancer caught the ire of the beer and wine industry.

READ MORE: B.C. allows longer liquor-store hours to help seniors follow social-distancing

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The claim is supported by the federal government and the World Health Organization, but under pressure from the liquor lobby, the Yukon government got rid of that message and continued with the other two.

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The B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General told Global News that it is aware of the research on warning labels and will study the results.

According to a 2018 report, representatives of the B.C. hospitality and liquor industries showed “no support” for such labels, citing of insufficient evidence and the ineffectiveness of a “one size fits all” approach, and instead favouring education-based initiatives.

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