In a petition, they urge the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or TTB to begin a congressional process to amend the health warning statement required to appear on all alcoholic beverage labels.
Currently, the labels must include a warning statement on motor vehicle operation and drinking while pregnant.
The law requiring that statement, passed in 1988, directs TTB to consult with the surgeon general and “promptly report” to Congress if “available scientific information” justifies a change in the statement.
The petitioners contend it’s time for a change.
“The government has the responsibility to give consumers the scientific information they need to make informed decisions about alcohol, just as it does with tobacco,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America.
Gremillion said consumers have a right to know that alcohol causes cancer, so they can decide for themselves whether drinking is worth the risk.
The petitioners refer to the surgeon general’s 2016 report documenting the link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the breast, oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, and colorectum.
“Even one drink per day may increase the risk of breast cancer,” according to the report.
The surgeon general’s conclusions are consistent with those of other public health authorities, such as the National Cancer Institute, said Gremillion. The NCI states on its website that “there is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer.”
The groups are urging TTB to seek congressional authorization for the following amendment to the current warning statement:
GOVERNMENT WARNING: According to the Surgeon General, consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause cancer, including breast and colon cancers.
The warning would save lives, the groups say, because most consumers aren’t aware of the link between alcohol and cancer.
The World Health Organization first documented the link between alcohol and a variety of cancers in 1987.
Researchers estimate that cancers associated with alcohol consumption affect nearly 90,000 Americans each year, and that alcohol consumption represents the third largest modifiable risk factor contributing to cancer cases in women – behind smoking and obesity – and the fourth largest in men – behind smoking, obesity, and UV radiation.
In 2014, alcohol consumption was associated with an estimated 6.4 percent – 50,110 – of all cancer cases in women, and 4.8 percent – 37,410 – of all cancer cases in men. The largest number of cases was for female breast cancer, 39,060 cases.
Despite these impacts, however, surveys from the National Cancer Institute and American Institute for Cancer Research have found that fewer than half of U.S. adults know that alcohol increases cancer risk.
This disconnect between alcohol’s contribution to cancer risk, and consumer awareness of it, supports the need for a warning label, according to the petitioners.
Even “light” and “moderate” drinking have been tied to various cancers.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended this summer that the 2020 guidelines lower the limit of alcoholic drinks per day for men down to one, in part because of cancer risk.
“The lack of public awareness of the strong link between alcohol and cancer is concerning,” said Peter Lurie, M.D., executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Laurie said a warning label will help correct this information imbalance.
Sharima Rasanayagam, Ph.D., science director for the Beast Cancer Prevention Partners, said breast cancer will affect one in eight women during their lifetime and is the second most common cancer among women in America.
“The reality is most women don’t know about the strong evidence that drinking alcohol increases their risk for breast cancer, which is exactly why this petition to the TTB is so critically important,” Rasanayagam said.
It’s time for the federal government to require warnings that alcohol can cause cancer, including breast cancer, she said.
The groups submitting the petition are Alcohol Justice, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Public Health Association, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, the Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance.