labelIn 2003, South Africa’s Medical Research Council not only reported that alcohol abuse costs South Africa at least 9 billion rand a year, but that at least 50% of all road accidents and murders, as well as more than 60% of hospital trauma, are as a direct result of intoxicated individuals (1). In 2007, South Africa introduced mandatory health warnings on containers with alcoholic beverages, as well as a system of rotating warnings (2). In order to assess the effectiveness of health warning labels, it is important to understand the objective of these warnings: are they aimed at awareness and education of the consumer and to remind them of specific risks associated with alcohol abuse OR to modify the behaviour of the consumers (3)?

Research findings all seem to agree on one thing: warning labels and information increase awareness and influence social norms, but does NOT modify behaviour (2) (3). Researchers also conclude that health warning labels can only play a role when part of a larger range of strategies and when they are more varied and more noticeable to the consumer (4). In favour of these warning labels, it was found that consumers who are able to recall the warning labels, also associate with a lower rate of engaging in drinking and driving (4). In an Australian survey, it was found that almost 90% of respondents believe health warning labels should include a FULL list of ingredients, while 75% think kilojoule content should be indicated on labels. A recent headline proclaimed “Bottles of wine and beer could carry calorie warning labels to stop women drinking”.

On the flipside of the coin, there are some that argue that these labels are not just ineffective when it comes to changing behaviours and the impact is either minimal or non-existent, but also do not take into considerations the differences in consumers with regards to sex, diet, weight etc., all factors that will significantly influence the individual’s response to alcohol (4) (3).

While both sides of the argument have merit, we need to decide…

Will the knowledge of the kilojoule content in your favourite drink discourage you from enjoying it?

Do consumers have the right to full disclosure when it comes to labels and a list of wine ingredients?

Will a warning or picture on a label stop somebody who regularly drinks and drives from doing so?

 

References:

1. Europe Intelligence Wire – Agence France Presse.
2. Health warnings and responsibility messages on alcoholic beverages – a review of practices in Europe. Walter Farke.
3. International Centre for alcohol policies. ICAP Reports 3. Health Warning Labels.
4. Centre for addiction research of BC. A Review Into The Impacts Of Alcohol Warning Labels Om Attitudes And Behaviour. Tim Stockwell.

Elda Lerm is a technical consultant for Oenobrands