Research Viewpoint: Mandating health and standard drink information labels on alcohol containers in Canada

What you need to know

Alcohol-linked causes lead to approximately 17,000 Canadian deaths annually. However, alcohol products sold in Canada are not required to be labelled with their health risks. In this commentary, the authors offer rationales for why it is important to mandate labelling of all alcohol products, summarize Canadian initiatives to legislate alcohol warning labels and address myths and misconceptions about alcohol labels.

Background

Although warning labels appear on tobacco and cannabis packages, the Federal Canadian government has not mandated labels that outline the health risks of alcohol. The authors suggest three messages that should be included on alcohol containers such as:

  1. The health and safety risks associated with alcohol consumption
  2. The number of Canadian standard drinks in the container and the volume of a standard drink
  3. Alcohol and health guidance for preventing or reducing consumption-related risks.

What ideas are the researchers presenting?

The authors discuss the following five reasons why public health should mandate enhanced warning labels on alcohol containers:

  1. Alcohol is the most popular legal drug in Canada.
  2. Alcohol is linked to several social, chronic and acute health risks and potential harms. These are not well understood by the general public and need to be addressed so individuals are aware of the hazards related to alcohol consumption.
  3. There is clear evidence that warning labels on alcohol containers can increase awareness of alcohol-related health effects and can change behaviour.
  4. Implementing alcohol labels will lead to other alcohol interventions, strategies and policy changes.
  5. There is a legal duty by the industry and governments to inform consumers of the risks associated with the use and misuse of alcohol.

The authors note that there is currently a bill in the Canadian Senate (B-S254) and a motion (M-61) put forward in the House of Commons. However, there is still some industry resistance and interference based on the myths and misconceptions about alcohol labels. These myths and misconceptions can be found in Table 3 of the commentary.

How can this information be used?

The authors note that the Federal Government of Canada is in a position to use authoritative measures under the Food and Drugs Act to mandate alcohol labels with health warnings to raise awareness of alcohol consumers and the broader public of the risks associated with alcohol use.

What future research is recommended?

The authors recommend several key strategies to work toward mandating alcohol warning labels:

About the researchers

Norman Giesbrecht1,2, Ashley Wettlaufer1, Kate Vallance3, · Erin Hobin2,4, Timothy Naimi3, Tina Price3, Tim Stockwell3

  1. Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  3. Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
  4. Public Health Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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