The latest issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, one of the top journals in the international substance use field, runs a series of papers from several ground-breaking research studies conducted over the past three years. The research is summarized in the journal’s editorial titled “The Arrogance of Power: Alcohol Industry Interference With Warning Label Research”
Key findings of the research are:
1. Health warnings on alcoholic beverage containers, including that alcohol causes cancer, brings about a reduction in consumption of alcohol;
2. These health warnings bring about an increase in knowledge by the public about health risks associated with alcohol; and
3. The alcohol industry does its best to suppress such research.
Two territories in Canada were chosen for one of the major studies. One territory received health warnings on beverage containers in the form of large yellow warning labels, including that alcohol causes cancer. The other nearby territory operated as usual with no health warnings. There was a 6.6% decrease in sales where health warnings were issued, while there was a 6.9% increase in sales in the control territory where there were no health warnings.
Predictably, the alcohol industry set about to thwart the research by lobbying the government to shut the research down, and concurrently made media statements either distorting or denying the evidence that alcohol causes cancer.
Four key facts about alcohol and cancer are:
- The World Health Organisation lists alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen (an agent that directly causes cancer);
- The seven best documented alcohol-related cancers are: mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast.
- There are about 250 alcohol-related cancer deaths per year in New Zealand;
- The most common alcohol-related cause of death in New Zealand women is breast cancer and a third of these occur in women who drink less than 2 drinks a day on average.
“The alcohol industry should warn its customers of the risk of cancer from consuming its product” says Prof Doug Sellman, a medical spokesperson for Alcohol Action NZ.
“But as we have seen with the tobacco industry and health warnings on cigarette packets, it is highly unlikely that the alcohol industry will voluntarily warn its customers of the risk of cancer, but instead will continue to deny and/or distort the truth about alcohol-related health risks, including cancer risk”.
“Large yellow health warnings on alcoholic beverage containers have been shown to be effective in warning consumers of the risk of cancer, and should be made mandatory”.