Health groups want alcohol labels to warn of cancer risk

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Consumers and health advocates are pressing for an update on labels established in 1988

A coalition of consumer and public health organizations is asking the U.S. government to change warning labels on alcoholic beverages to tell consumers of potential cancer risks.

Alcoholic beverages already carry a warning not to consume alcohol if you are pregnant or operating a motor vehicle.

In a letter to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) -- part of the Treasury Department -- the groups asked TTB to begin the process of amending the health warning statement currently required to appear on all alcoholic beverage labels.

The groups cite a 2016 report from the U.S. Surgeon General that documented a link between even light alcohol consumption and several common types of cancer. The groups say that the finding coincides with research from other organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute, which says “there is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer.”

The current warning label was established by a law established in 1988. The groups -- the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Public Health Association, Breast Cancer Action, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance -- said the warning can be expanded to include cancer by amending the current statute.

Suggested warning

In their letter to TTB, the groups suggest that the following warning be added to alcoholic beverage labels:

GOVERNMENT WARNING: According to the Surgeon General, consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause cancer, including breast and colon cancers.

The groups say the added warning is needed because most consumers are unaware of any link between alcohol and cancer.

“The disconnect between alcohol’s impact on cancer and the awareness of that impact should raise alarm bells,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). one of the organizations that signed the letter. “The industry has succeeded in putting a health halo around alcohol. The government has the responsibility to give consumers the scientific information they need to make informed decisions about alcohol, just as it does with tobacco.”

The warnings have come at a time when alcohol consumption is increasing in the U.S., with more and more consumers coming to accept it. But a 2018 study published in The Lancet found that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) first documented the link between alcohol and a number of different cancers in 1987. According to the groups urging a new warning label, cancers associated with alcohol consumption affect nearly 90,000 Americans each year.

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