Briefing paper

Alcohol warning labels: are they effective?

18 Jan 2013

Australia does not currently require warning labels on alcohol products, putting Australia out of step with many other countries. Given the potential persuasive power of labels, as well as the rising social costs of alcoholism in the United States (US), government - mandated warning labels were enforced and have appeared on all alcoholic beverage containers manufactured in the US since 1989.

The commencement of this warning label system reportedly brought about increased awareness of the risks of excessive alcohol use among consumers in the US. As a result, other countries have followed this lead with at least 20 other countries introducing some kind of mandated warning label, including Brazil, France, India, Portugal, South Africa, Korea, Thailand, and Zimbabwe. There are several other countries considering their introduction (e.g. United Kingdom), or with voluntary labeling in place (e.g. Japan).

While Australia does not currently require warning labels on alcohol products, both public health advocates and the alcohol industry are pushing for labels, although it is likely they have different motivations. Medical and advocacy organisations have been campaigning for mandatory (and government regulated) warning labels on alcohol for over a decade. Key advocacy groups include the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Australian Medical Associa tion (AMA), Salvation Army, and national and state Cancer Councils. These groups are consistent in their calls for strong, specific and mandatory messages on warning labels such as ‘Alcohol can cause brain damage’ (Salvation Army).

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