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Advocacy: Change in alcohol labelling policy

August 2011

The Alcohol Policy Coalition (APC), of which Cancer Council Victoria is a member, is currently advocating for health warnings to be put on alcohol labels. We believe Australians have a right to be warned about the strong link between alcohol and cancer .

Currently, one quarter of Australians drink at levels that put them at higher risk of chronic alcohol related conditions, such as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. 

Over 5,000 cancer cases in Australia every year can be attributed to alcohol use, including one in five breast cancers. Just try to imagine if another off-the-shelf product had such a strong link to breast cancer: there would be outrage at the lack of warning labels for consumers.

When you pick up most food products you can find out all sorts of information; warnings about animal products, peanuts and tree nuts, how much energy per 100g or per serving, etc. This information is particularly important when it comes to products that have the potential to cause harm.

Then look at a beer. You'll know the percentage of alcohol you are drinking, possibly how many standard drinks, but that's all, because most alcohol products are not even required to list the ingredients.

Alcohol labels have the benefit of warning people of the health risks at the point of consumption – when they've actually got the bottle or can in their hand. We know from the tobacco experience that this is effective.

The hope eventually is for a cultural shift that would lead to lower alcohol consumption rates.

Even small shifts in alcohol consumption can have significant results. For example, if all Australians reduced their alcohol consumption by one third there could be 98,000 fewer new cases annually of alcohol-caused disease and 21,000 fewer years lost to illness and death.

The APC supports the proposal launched this month by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, which calls for mandatory health warnings on alcohol labels that are evidence-based and government regulated.

The Government needs to seriously consider the recommendations of this proposal as well as the Preventative Health Taskforce and Blewett's Labelling Logic report. The priority must be for unambiguous and specific messages.  And importantly, they must be developed independent of the alcohol industry.

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