Movement Builds for Cancer Warning Labels on Alcohol

Did you know the last time alcohol warning labels were adjusted was in 1989? This was also the first time the government implemented them. Now, over 30 years later, alcohol warning labels remain the same. What has changed? The science behind what we know about alcohol and its potential harms.

Current Warnings vs Known Harms of Alcohol

Currently, alcohol labels must contain the following statement:

While this information is still true, the “may cause health problems” is tremendously vague. Scientific studies have found more specific, and highly concerning, health effects related to alcohol consumption.

In fact, over 200 diseases and ailments can be traced to alcohol use. Of these, cancer is top of mind for many people hoping to raise awareness; drinking alcohol can increase the risk of several different types of cancer, including the following:

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

It is estimated that each year in the US, approximately 75,000 cases of cancer and 19,000 deaths from cancer are linked to alcohol; and these numbers only seem to be rising. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol-related deaths increased by 25.5%.

Although science has demonstrated a link between alcohol and cancer for years, most Americans are not aware of it. One survey found that although 93% of people in the US recognize the cancer risk of tobacco, only 39% of people were aware alcohol had a risk of cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen decades ago. This designation is the highest risk group, placing alcohol in the same category as tobacco, radiation, and asbestos.

Beyond a lack of awareness, another common misunderstanding is that different types of alcohol may present different cancer risks. Many survey participants identified liquor and beer as cancer risks; however, approximately 10% of those surveyed believed wine decreased the risk of cancer—a notion more current research proves false.

Is a New Alcohol Warning Label in Our Future?

In October 2020, 8 public health advocacy groups filed a petition to amend the current alcohol warning label to state:

While the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has said they are “consulting with the Office of the Surgeon General regarding potential changes,” no such changes have yet to be made. More recently, a perspective published in September 2022 in The New England Journal of Medicine advocates for updated language on alcohol warning labels.

One main concern among health professionals is that if people don’t have this information, they cannot make informed decisions about their drinking. And down the road, in a decade or so, we may be facing a significant increase in the number of people with cancer, as many adults have increased their intake of alcohol rather than decreased it.

Regardless of whether the federal government decides to mandate a cancer warning label on products containing alcohol or not, it’s important that we as consumers are able to make informed decisions. This is especially true when such purchases can have a dramatic impact on not only our health but our lifespan as well.

April Is Alcohol Awareness Month

In honor of April being Alcohol Awareness Month, keep in mind that no amount of alcohol is recommended, and excessive drinking can have several serious consequences.

If you or someone you care about struggles with alcohol use, help is available. Evidence-based treatment methods, like those used at Greenhouse Treatment Center, can support a person’s recovery.

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