Cirrhotic liver label - © EuroCare

Medical Association calls for alcohol warning labels

Even those of us (a growing majority) who don’t smoke are well aware of the humongous health warnings on tobacco product packages. Cigarettes cause cancer and all sorts of horrible diseases. Now, there’s a push on, initiated by the Canadian Medical Association, to have similar warnings placed on booze labels.

Cirrhotic liver label - © EuroCareA proposed beverage bottle warning label, along the lines of those
used on tobacco packages now. Courtesy, European Alcohol
Policy Alliance (EuroCare).

The Canadian Medical Association Journal recently published an ‘editorial’ of sorts, highlighting the damage alcohol does to the body and how impairment from booze causes a lot of accidents – all of those, unnecessary drains on the already over-stressed medical community.

Some suggested warnings, designed for beer, wine and spirits bottles, were reproduced recently in a National Post commentary on the subject. They’re every bit as obtrusive as the warnings on cigarette labels.

But would they do any good? Addicted smokers have grown used to seeing the horrid photos of cancerous lungs and rotted out mouths on their packages. And besides, as addicts, they could be expected to just ignore them, anyway. I believe the same thing would happen with addicted alcoholics and beverage bottle warnings.

The difference might be felt among binge drinkers, many of whom are in the teen and young adult demographics and just might still be impressionable enough to be positively affected by such ‘advertising’. But peer pressure usually prevails. Same as with tobacco.

Now, l let’s not forget those casual but determined drinkers who boast they can ‘hold it’ and refuse to go home in a cab when they can’t. (That would be too hard on their over-inflated egos.) Warnings might prey on their inbred potential for guilt and/or shame. Maybe, just maybe, those folks would stop to think if they were confronted with warnings on every bottle of beer throughout the evening. Maybe not.

And they probably wouldn’t see any warnings if they were drinking at a pub or restaurant – unless they were drinking bottled beer. All other libations would be served in ‘house’ glassware. Do we extend the warnings to include all bar glasses? Who pays the millions of dollars that buying new glassware could cost tens of thousands of licensed establishments across the land? In the end, restaurant and bar patrons would. That’s us.

So what’s the point of making booze manufacturers put great big warnings on their products?

No practical one that I can see. And the governments (federal and provincial) don’t really want to discourage drinking that much, because they’ve gotten used to making mountains of money from taxing beverage alcohol. Again, its the same as with tobacco.

Bottom line? The move to put warnings on tobacco packages hasn’t really accomplished what it set out to do. That’s why they’ve repeatedly increased the size of them over time. And it’s still not working. I don’t think warnings on beverage bottles would do much, either.

But…There could be real, substantial political gains. The federal government would be able to point to the move, at election time, saying it’s doing its duty to help protect the public from the scourge of booze and reduce demands on the medical system to treat ‘preventable’ conditions.

Get ready for big photos of cirrhotic livers and horrific traffic accidents on the front label of your favourite Bordeaux.

~ Maggie J.