Survey finds drinkers warm to cancer warnings on alcohol labels


15 August 2014

New research has revealed drinkers would accept cancer warning statements on alcohol drinks and that those warnings would be effective in informing people that their drinking is increasing their risk of cancer.

The research by Curtin University, Cancer Council WA, and UWA, was led by Professor Simone Pettigrew of the School of Psychology at Curtin University, and surveyed Australian drinkers to assess their reactions to cancer warning messages that could be included on alcoholic beverages.

“While many Australians are not aware of the alcohol-cancer link, the World Health Organization reports that alcohol contributes to the risk of numerous forms of cancer, including cancers of the breast, bowel, throat, and mouth,” Professor Pettigrew said.

“Even low levels of alcohol consumption place drinkers at increased risk of developing cancer.  The type of alcoholic beverage makes no difference to that increase in cancer risk and the damage is caused by the alcohol content,” she said.

The cancer warning statements were designed using input from drinkers and were then tested for their believability, convincingness, and perceived relevance across a national sample of more than 2,000 drinkers.

While all the messages tested were found to be generally acceptable, the statement “Alcohol increases your risk of bowel cancer” was most effective.

Other messages tested related to specific cancers, such as breast cancer and cancer of the throat and mouth, or to the overall increase in cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption.

“Encouragingly, even heavy drinkers found the messages believable, and they were more likely than lighter drinkers to consider the messages personally relevant,” Professor Pettigrew said.

Cancer Council WA Director of Education and Research, Terry Slevin, said the results also support the outcomes of previous surveys that demonstrate wide-spread public support in Australia for warning messages on alcohol products to reduce the cost of alcohol-related harms to the community. 

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