Story update: The Canadian government’s alcohol and cancer warning label experiment has been halted due to pressure from the alcohol industry who threatened legal action for defamation and trademark infringement.
Many drinkers are unaware that alcohol causes a number of cancers including breast and bowel cancer. In order to raise awareness of this the Yukon government, in collaboration with researchers, has introduced labels on alcoholic drinks warning that alcohol causes cancer. The labels also provide recommendations on safe alcohol consumption for men and women as well as advising that people should plan to have two or more non-drinking days a week.
This new initiative was a challenge to implement as Yukon is a small jurisdiction and couldn’t influence drinks manufacturers to change their labelling. Therefore the Yukon Liquor Corporation and Public Health Ontario researcher, Erin Hobin, affixed the labels to thousands of bottles themselves.
These labels are a world’s first. No other country warns drinkers, through labelling on drinks, that alcohol causes breast or bowel cancer; South Korea highlights the link between alcohol and liver cancer and the US only warns of the dangers of drunk driving and risks of drinking while pregnant.
Researcher Erin Hobbs explained the reasoning behind the labelling:
“Alcohol is such a big part of our culture in Canada. We’re inundated with alcohol marketing that shows us how much fun alcohol is. It’s part of most of our celebrations … (But) consumers have a right to know the health risks if they do choose to drink alcohol. If they do choose to drink, they can do so in a safer manner.”
Alcohol is not just linked to breast and bowel cancer, but has also been linked to cancers of the mouth, upper throat, food pipe, voice box and liver. The number one cancer impacted by alcohol is breast cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified alcohol as a type 1 carcinogen, which means there is the highest level of evidence to suggest that it does cause cancer.
It is hoped that governments will follow Yukon’s example as awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer is very low and people need to have this information so they can make an informed decision about their drinking habits, and hopefully protect their health.