Consumer Information and Labelling of Alcohol – Position Statement

Key Messages

In 1988 alcohol was classified by the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group One carcinogen. This is the highest classification available and means that it is a cause of cancer. Accordingly, access to information on how to use alcohol is crucial for the consumer and should accompany the sale and supply of all alcohol products as a public health promotion message and disease prevention measure.

Placing health information and warning labels on alcoholic drinks and containers targets the appropriate audience (the drinker) at the appropriate time, when purchasing and using the product. Cancer Council recommends:

  • Health information and warning labels should be mandatory under the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code.
  • Health information and warning labels need to follow strict guidelines about wording, format, legibility, colours used and the size of the label and position on the bottle.
  • The introduction of health information and warning labels should be part of a wider alcohol control strategy that includes advertising and sponsorship bans and targeted pricing and taxation measures.
  • Cancer Council is concerned about the limitations of the current labelling approach to alcohol.Currently, alcohol labelling requirements are less stringent than those applied to many food. Instead these fail to recognise or acknowledge that alcohol is a high-risk product. A more effective approach to alcohol labelling could be based on the approach taken to tobacco under the consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1975 (Cth).
  • An implementation time frame for the industry to include health information and warning labels should occur within 12 months of the decision to include such labels.
  • In relation to health information labels they should include:
    a) a full list of ingredients and nutritional information, in accordance with Standard 1.2.8 of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand code[1], including the energy content per container and per 100 mL. This is particularly important in relation to overweight, obesity and allergy concerns.
      b) warning labels should include health messages based on the 2009 NHMRC guidelines for low risk drinking including:

      • medical side effects of alcohol;
      • risks during pregnancy;
      • increased risk of physical violence;
      • risks to safety when operating machinery, driving, swimming etc.; and
      • social, health and injury problems.
  • Cancer Council proposes, in order to maximise impact, awareness and comprehension of the warning labels; they need to be:
    • placed on the main label (as opposed to the neck label);
    • boxed;
    • of letters no less than 3 mm high;
    • textual and graphic;
    • attention-getting;
    • full colour or black writing on white background to ensure written messages stand out;
    • occupying a considerable portion of the package surface, with the minimum size of labels stipulated;
    • rotated with different messages; and
    • easy to comprehend – they need to be tested with consumers to ensure they are understood especially by people with low literacy or who speak languages other than English.
  • Warning labels should address social as well as health and safety issues, such as risk to third parties, as well as to the drinker themselves.
  • Alcohol warning labels should be reinforced by warning posters and signs in licensed premises.

See the full position statement: Consumer Information and Labelling of Alcohol