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Australia

Drinkers need to be told about the risk of cancer from alcohol

By RJ Whitehead , 21-Aug-2014

Curtin University researchers are now recommending the adoption of cancer warning labels for alcoholic beverages after a study they conducted found that Australians would take not be averse to seeing such advisories on their wine, beer and spirits bottles.

Professor Simone Pettigrew, from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, said there is growing evidence that alcohol contributes to the risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, liver disease, foetal abnormalities, cognitive impairment and mental health problems.

Lacking awareness

While a number of countries have already introduced warnings on labels, most refer to the dangers of drinking while pregnant or drink driving, rather than the more widespread negative effects of alcohol consumption.

Many people are not aware of the alcohol-cancer link so we developed a series of cancer warning statements for alcohol and tested them for their believability, ability to convince, and perceived relevance across a national sample of more than 2,000 drinkers,” Prof. Pettigrew said.

Encouragingly, even heavy drinkers reportedly found the messages to be believable and were more likely than lighter drinkers to consider the messages personally relevant.”

The statement “Alcohol increases your risk of bowel cancer”was most effective in getting people to consider their drinking habits before buying a bottle.

Following the success of warning labels on tobacco products, we are encouraged by the increased support for similar warnings to be placed on alcoholic beverages,” Prof. Pettigrew added.

Token demonstration

Alcohol harm costs Australia A$30bn (US$27.8bn) annually and despite the demonstrated links between alcohol consumption and ill health, alcohol continues to be heavily advertised.

Even worse, ads sponsored by Australia’s alcohol industry, such as DrinkWise’s ad showing young people how to drink ‘properly’, do little to inform. They serve only as a token demonstration of balancing the A$125m-plus a year spent on indirect and direct advertising of alcohol,” Prof. Pettigrew added in a follow-up paper posted on The Conversation academic website.

One Australian government survey found that around 90% of men and 81% of women believed that they can drink alcohol every day without it affecting their health.

As warning labels on alcoholic beverages are now mandatory in a growing number of countries, the researchers say they hope this project will help guide government policy on mandatory warnings.

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