Consumer and Public Health Groups Push for Cancer Warning on Alcohol

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An example of a cancer warning for alcohol.

According to the Surgeon General, the link between alcohol consumption and cancers is now clear. Alcohol consumption represents the third largest contributor to cancer cases in women (behind smoking and obesity). However, surveys indicate that fewer than half of consumers are aware of the connection between alcohol and cancer. In response, a coalition of consumer and public health groups, including CFA, is pushing to increase awareness of this link through an updated warning on alcohol products.

The groups submitted a petition to the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), calling for a new warning label to be printed on alcohol, such as:

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

Currently, all alcoholic beverage labels must include a warning statement regarding motor vehicle operation and drinking while pregnant. The law requiring that statement, passed in 1988, directs TTB to consult with the Surgeon General and “promptly report” to Congress if “available scientific information” justifies a change in the statement. The petitioners argue that the time has come for TTB to fulfill that reporting duty and update the warning accordingly.

The groups point to the Surgeon General’s 2016 report as key evidence of the need to update the warning. The report documents the link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the breast, oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, and colorectum. “Even one drink per day may increase the risk of breast cancer,” the report states.

The Surgeon General’s conclusions are also consistent with those of other public health authorities, such as the National Cancer Institute, which points out on its website that “there is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer.” Even “light” and “moderate” drinking have been tied to various cancers.

More recently, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the group responsible for issuing and updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommended that the 2020 guidelines lower the limit of alcoholic drinks per day for men down to one, in part because of cancer risk.

“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,” said Thomas Gremillion, CFA Director of Food Policy. “Consumers have a right to know that alcohol causes cancer, so they can decide for themselves whether drinking is worth the risk,” Gremillion concluded.

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