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Why alcohol deserves to carry a health warning

The alcohol industry – and all those who sail with it – are awaiting the release of the Preventative Health Taskforce report which has now been with Minister Roxon for some weeks. The Taskforce’s brief was “to provide evidence-based advice to governments and health providers on preventative health programs and strategies, focusing on the burden of chronic disease currently caused by obesity, tobacco and the excessive consumption of alcohol”.

The CEO of VicHealth, Todd Harper, argues that one area where the community would support immediate action is labelling that clearly spells out the health issues. He writes:

“It’s the fourth biggest global cause of death and injury.  Use of this product is associated with an increased risk of several cancers.  It causes $3.5 billion in lost productivity in Australia each year and is involved in more than 60 per cent of crimes investigated by police.  A large proportion of the harmful use of this product is borne by others – not just those that use it.

What do you think would be an appropriate warning to consumers about such a product?

This product is alcohol, and it is not required to carry health information aside from the quantity within its container. There is nothing about the product’s potential to cause injury, brain damage, cancer or impact on pregnancy.  Unlike food, it carries no information about kilojoule content.

We provide consumers with information on the harms associated with fumes from spray cans; that some foods contain traces of nuts; that excessive consumption of some mints has a laxative effect, and that some products cause drowsiness.

Alcohol however has no such health information.

Recent research by the Social Research Centre for VicHealth identified that consumers do want more information about alcohol – including the health effects, safer consumption and the nutritional information of alcohol.

The research found:

Label content                                    % support
___________________________________________________________________

Recommended daily guidelines for low risk alcohol consumption        85%

Advice that exceeding daily guidelines may be harmful            89%

Targeted advice for specific groups                        91%

Nutritional information (cal/kJ, alcohol, protein, fat, carbohydrates per
container and per 100ml)                            76%

List of ingredients                                86%

Number of standard drinks (displayed in a uniform way)            95%

Alcohol content (alcohol by volume)                        97%

Labels can provide information that is commonplace with many other products. Consumers deserve to know more, and this latest research shows that they want to know more.

More than 80 per cent of Australians drink and 1.4 million consume alcohol on a daily basis – that’s a significant number of people who are calling for more information so they can make more informed choices about alcohol consumption.

The alcohol industry spends more than $119 million a year reminding customers of the benefits of alcohol – its taste, how it is great for making friends, having fun, and a ‘must have’ when watching sport, or at events with family or friends. But none of this provides consumers with perhaps the most important piece of information – how alcohol affects your health.

Consumer information on alcohol labelling should be a component of a broad strategy to reduce alcohol harms in our community. Labelling does provide information to consumers at two vital points – at the point of purchase and at the point of consumption.  In this way, labels can be a timely reminder to consumers of other health messages they may have heard at another point in time such as televised education campaigns.

Clearly we’re at the beginning of a journey. Much more discussion needs to be had with drinkers about the way the messages are communicated and different methods need to be used to target specific age groups and cultural diversities.

We’ve made a start and what this latest study suggests is that a number of broad principles should be considered when developing labels. These include:

•    Simple, clear and direct language;
•    Provide new information and evidence wherever possible;
•    Provide factual information;
•    Aim to educate and inform, rather than be authoritarian or prescriptive of behaviour.

It’s a useful conversation to start.”

Comments 7

  1. Jon Hunt says:

    It is true that people in the main don’t think of alcohol as a drug, yet it is, in fact there is really nothing to distinguish it from an illicit drug and in fact, like cigarettes, it is hypocritical that it not be illicit. I have heard it called a “poison” which although humorous is also correct. There are many people in the health profession who would be out of a job were it to be unavailable. And I suppose there would be many people who would be alive today were it to be unavailable.

  2. Moira Smith says:

    Oh yes (she said sarcastically, just in case anyone misinterprets my remarks), let’s do everything we can to preserve and prolong every human life while, at the same time, removing every chemical (and some very ancient) means of making such lives more tolerable and even meaningful: eg alcohol tobacco and other mind-altering drugs. Let’s climb past the 7 billion probable current population to reach 9 billion shortly – way past what many regard as the carrying capacity of planet Earth (which I’ve read may actually represent the population just before WWII which could explain the heartless and evil drive to reduce that population, focussing always on the ‘less desirable’ as viewed by the ruling classes of the time ie Fascists and Nazis). Let’s seed our fields with poisons that promote the growth of basic human (and possibly nutritionally substandard – never mind climate-change inducing) food at the expense of the food and the survival of our fellow inhabitants on the earth – some or most of whom actually add to the diversity and viability of life on this planet.

    As for cigarettes, I’ve been smoking them since age 16, I’m nearly 56 now, I’m not dead yet. I’m not saying they’re not ‘lethal’ but in my case the lethality is slow while the advantages have been many and constant. I’m sure in the long run they’re bad for my health but you should know I have a long history of bad health things, more than ten operations (none smoking related), other problems I choose not to share here. Born several generations ago, I could have been dead at birth, or age 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. Look round the old cemeteries if you want to see the truth of this. I was born with jaundice and then got scarlet fever. Cigarettes may kill me in the end but there are many other ends to choose from, different cancers, viruses, bacterial infections, STDs, etc etc. I don’t think many die peaceful in their beds these days. My old grandpa did but I think that was because noone sent him for tests to determine which system of his old body was failing (he was over 80).

    As for alcohol, ditto. Yes, the cause of many personal and family disasters, but the fact that it has the capacity to do so demonstrates that it is a substance that interacts powerfully with the human brain. How do we learn to use it rather than let it abuse us? is the question that springs to mind. I have personal experience with a family affected by alcohol abuse so I do not take this subject lightly at all. Yet, I still choose to drink.

    Let’s be realistic and stop pretending we could all live forever if we stopped smoking and drinking, jogged, took all the vitamins, got into all the spiritual affirmations etc. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE.

    I liked Todd Harper’s last point, which was:
    ‘Aim to educate and inform, rather than be authoritarian or prescriptive of behaviour.’

    Ultimately we all have to choose how to live our lives, some of our lives are difficult and we need all the help we can get (and we also need advice and support on how to reject that ‘help’). It is nowhere near as simple as obeying advice to ‘stop this’ and ‘don’t do that’.

    I hope some of my fellow Crikey-followers can relate to these views, which I suspect are these days rather non-PC.
    M

  3. SheilaJoyce says:

    Thankyou !
    Thankyou !!
    Thankyou !!!

    This has been the best message I’ve received in the 27 months since becoming a recovering alcoholic.

    Praise the Lord !!!
    Good work !!
    Don’t stop !

  4. Jan Dash says:

    If alcoholic beverages displayed kilojoules perhaps teenage girls would stop drinking

  5. brendan ford says:

    I agree with the standard drink data being assessed and advertised more clearly on drinks, but health warnings will have little effect beyond that as alcoholism is inherently genetic and whether young or old if you decide to get drunk you simply do it.

  6. Jon Hunt says:

    The problem is, Moira, both of these things are addictive. In other words people in the end do not have a choice in the matter and many die because of this. Not because that is what they want.

  7. drugrehabusa says:

    Do parents seriously take the time to see when they are drinking butterbeer? That’s insanity. And besides I doubt many kids will make a connection or notice. They probably think that butterbeer is just melted butter.

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Pregnancy and childbirth
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Acknowledgement
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Health in All Policies
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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
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#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
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#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
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2017 conferences