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Do Alcohol Warning Labels Matter?

Government-mandated labels on alcohol products were introduced to mitigate alcohol-related harms. Such labels may contain a range of information including health warnings, alcohol content, standard drink information, and guidance (e.g., warnings against use during pregnancy or while driving). However, it is unclear how effective these labels are at reducing harms or influencing alcohol-related behavior. A recent systematic review published in the Lancet aimed to address this gap in knowledge. In their review, Zuckerman and colleagues reviewed the extant literature to determine the impact of alcohol warning labels across three domains: 1) alcohol consumption, 2) knowledge of alcohol harms, and 3) support for warning labels. Further, all included studies compared alcohol labels to either no-label or a pre-existing label. Using these criteria, these authors identified 40 total studies on the impact of alcohol warning labels on alcohol outcomes. Relating to alcohol consumption behavior, there was evidence to suggest that warning labels were associated with reduced consumption (frequency and quantity), alcohol product selection, decreased use during pregnancy, and reduced consumption due to driving. There were mixed findings on the relation between labels and alcohol risk knowledge with most studies reporting no significant relations. Importantly, this review found that label presentation had a large effect on consumption and alcohol purchasing. Labels that are larger, include more information, or containers with multiple labels were associated with decreased consumption and purchasing. It is worth highlighting that subgroup analyses found that the impacts of warning labels were decreased among heavier drinkers, suggesting that the impact of labels may be more relevant among infrequent or lower quantity drinkers.

Broadly, this review found the strongest support for more comprehensive/visible labels and that warning labels most strongly relate to decreased consumption, purchasing, and drinking before driving and that these effects are stronger for less frequent/fewer heavy drinkers. Though these findings are an important step in understanding the impact of alcohol warning labels, this review noted several limitations in the existing literature that warrant further study. Notably, given the heterogeneity in study designs, the authors reported a high risk of bias and high levels of uncertainty in study results.

Follow the link to access the full article: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(24)00097-5/fulltext

Zuckerman, A.M.E, Morissette, K., Boland, L., Jaramillo Garcia, A., Reyes Domingo, F., Stockwell, T., & Hobin, E. (2024). The effects of alcohol container labels on consumption behaviour, knowledge, and support for labelling: a systematic review. The Lancet Public Heath 9(7) e481-e494.