Labelling fails to address major knowledge gap on alcohol risks

The liquor industry’s decision to voluntarily include health warning labels on alcohol is a welcome move, but alone is unlikely to make a significant impact on the health and social consequences of alcohol abuse and binge drinking in Australia.

“The initiative represents a welcome shift from a long standing industry opposition, globally, to labelling,” said Professor Michael Farrell, Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales. “It is important that the health risks of alcohol consumption are better communicated and that the general population understand that alcohol is no ordinary commodity.

“However knowledge about levels of drinking and risks is very limited and there is need for a major improvement in general knowledge about the health risks of alcohol consumption. The proposed labels will not address these major gaps in knowledge.

“Nor are they likely to significantly change behaviour or impact the health and social consequences of alcohol abuse and binge drinking.

“Australia has one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the world and the problem is particularly acute among young men. What we need are a range of strategies to reduce alcohol consumption including changes to the current taxation system, pricing, availability and promotion of alcohol.”

NDARC is currently engaged in three research studies aiming to reduce the impact of drinking in pregnancy and alcohol-related birth defects, including two studies funded by the Alcohol Education & Rehabilitation Foundation (AERF). It has also recently completed the Alcohol Action in Rural Communities project (AARC), also funded by AERF, the results of which will be released later this year.

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