Will imposing tobacco-style health warnings on alcohol deter you from drinking?

A study shows that tobacco-style health warnings on wine containers make alcohol less attractive and socially acceptable.

Graphic images and text about the dangers of cigarette smoking have been a staple of tobacco packaging in the UK for two decades.

Now scientists from the University of Stirling suggest that a similar warning on alcohol may help persuade youth to drink less.

Experts pasted fake warnings on bottles of vodka brand Smirnoff. The warnings included text with phrases such as ‘alcohol causes oral cancer’, as well as images of people holding their livers as if in pain.

Those who saw the warnings were less likely to find alcohol attractive and more likely to think about the health risks.

The charities have said it is bizarre that current regulations mean there is more health information on a pint of milk than a bottle of wine.

1,306 survey participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups to measure their attitudes toward alcohol, one of which was a control of a generic Smirnoff vodka bottle (far left) and the other a health warning label.

1,306 survey participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups to measure their attitudes toward alcohol, one of which was a control of a generic Smirnoff vodka bottle (far left) and the other a health warning label.

Text warning labels come in two different font sizes, with a message displaying such as 'Alcohol causes liver disease'.  A set of warning labels also includes imagery images related to a health risk such as a person holding their lower abdomen or using a medical scanner.

Text warning labels come in two different font sizes, with a message displaying such as ‘Alcohol causes liver disease’. A set of warning labels also includes imagery images related to a health risk such as a person holding their lower abdomen or using a medical scanner.

Alcoholic drinks in the UK are only legally required to include the alcohol percentage by volume, total volume and country of origin on the label.

However, many also include how many units of alcohol is in the drink as well as a general warning that pregnant women should not consume it then.

The scientists tested the effect of short text warnings, large text warnings and a text warning with a related picture on attitudes towards drinking.

They showed pictures to 1,360 young drinkers in the UK and then later surveyed their attitudes towards alcohol.

Just over 80 percent of participants were classified as binge drinkers for the study, published in Drug and Alcohol Review.

Participants were randomly exposed to either a generic Smirnoff bottle image or one of three styles of warning label versions.

The researchers claimed that those exposed to large text warnings or picture warnings were nearly five times as likely to perceive the drink as ineffective and socially unacceptable, compared to a control group.

Those who saw the short text alert were almost three times as likely to report the same feelings than the controls.

The NHS recommends that adults drink no more than 14 units each week – that's 14 single shots of the spirits or six pints of beer or a bottle and a half of wine

The NHS recommends that adults drink no more than 14 units each week – that’s 14 single shots of the spirits or six pints of beer or a bottle and a half of wine

Additionally, young drinkers who saw warning labels were eight to 11 times more likely to report consuming less alcohol.

The greatest effects were once again observed for large text warnings and picture labels.

Study author Danielle Jones said the findings suggest that warning labels on alcoholic drinks can help people make healthier choices.

“Especially large picture or text warnings can help counter the appeal and social acceptability of alcohol products while raising awareness of the risk,” he said.

‘Research findings indicate that warnings could potentially lead to a reduction in consumption and related harms.’

Alison Douglas, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, claimed that the current state of alcohol health labeling in the UK was bizarre.

“It is vitally important that we have all the facts to make informed choices, yet bizarre exemptions from food and beverage labeling regulations require more information on a pint of milk than a bottle of wine,” she said. .

‘Currently, the alcohol industry can decide what information it will and will not include on its products.

‘This study shows that health information and warnings can be useful in reducing how much we drink, and that people want information about what is in their drink provided on products where it is useful. can directly inform their decisions.

The study had several limitations, one that the specific design of the warnings and images were not tested for effect on consumers.

They were notably less graphic than the images of diseased organs and tissues found on tobacco products, for example.

The NHS advises Britons to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which is roughly the equivalent of six pints of beer or one bottle of wine.

Alcohol-related harm in England alone costs the NHS £3.5bn a year, and in 2020 there were 8,974 alcohol-related deaths recorded in the UK.

The research comes amid calls for England to print health warnings on individual cigarettes.

Under the terms of the Cigarette Stick Health Warning Bill, tobacco manufacturers are required to use eight different warnings alternately on their sticks and rolling paper.

Do you drink too much alcohol? 10 questions that reveal your risk

One screening tool widely used by medical professionals is AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the 10-question test is considered the gold standard for helping determine whether someone has a problem with alcohol abuse.

The test is reproduced here with permission from WHO.

To accomplish this, answer each question and note down the respective score.

Will imposing tobacco-style health warnings on alcohol deter you from drinking?

Will imposing tobacco-style health warnings on alcohol deter you from drinking?

Your Score:

0-7: You are within sensible drinking limits and you have a lower risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or dangerous drinking.

8-15: Moderate risk. Drinking alcohol at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting back (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. It can be difficult to cut on your own at this stage, as you may become dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or counsellor.

20 more: possible dependencies. Your drinking is already bothering you, and you may become too dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reducing your drinking. You should seek professional help to determine the level of your dependence and the safest way to avoid alcohol.

Severe dependence may require medically assisted evacuation, or detoxification, in a hospital or specialist clinic. This is because of the potential for severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours requiring specialist treatment.

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