Cancer Warning Labels on Alcohol Containers: A Consumer's Right to Know, a Government's Responsibility to Inform, and an Industry's Power to Thwart

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2020 Mar;81(2):284-292.


Although the World Health Organization (WHO) declared alcohol a Class 1 carcinogen 30 years ago, few governments have communicated this fact to the public. We illustrate how alcohol industry groups seek to keep their customers in the dark about alcohol-related cancer risks. In Canada, a federally funded scientific study examining the introduction of cancer warning labels on containers was shut down following industry interference. We show that the industry complaints about the study had no legal merit. Of 47 WHO member countries with alcohol warning labels, only South Korea requires cancer warnings on alcohol containers. However, industry complaints, supported by sympathetic governments, helped weaken the warning labels' implementation. Ireland has legislated for cancer warnings but faces continuing legal opposition expressed through regional and global bodies. Cancer societies and the public health community have failed to counter industry pressures to minimize consumer awareness of alcohol's cancer risks. Placing cancer warnings on alcohol containers could make a pivotal difference in motivating both drinkers to consume less and regulators to introduce more effective policies to reduce the serious harms of alcohol consumption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Alcoholic Beverages / adverse effects*
  • Alcoholic Beverages / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Consumer Health Information / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Consumer Health Information / standards*
  • Government*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Industry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Industry / standards*
  • Ireland / epidemiology
  • Product Labeling / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Product Labeling / standards*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Public Health / standards
  • Republic of Korea / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Behavior
  • World Health Organization
  • Yukon Territory / epidemiology