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Put a cancer warning on alcohol, consumer and public health groups urge

Wine in Glass With Wine BottlesConsumer and public health groups are asking for a warning statement on alcoholic beverages to increase consumer awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer.

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.


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Dear Rita, if booze was made illegal (does alot more damage than cigarettes could even hope to) wouldn't bother me a bit, but that would punish the majority of people who enjoy a drink or two, and then leave it alone.


Only if warnings re: cardiovascular illnesses and increased rates of asthma, high blood pressure are required to be posted on every dashboard of every vehicle in the US, given that the noise & air pollution generated by motor vehicles have been causationally linked to development of all those conditions.

And every person in the US is notified that their tap water, if it comes from a surface water source (and some groundwater sources), is likely to be contaminated w/PFAS/PFOS, TCDD (one of the most carcinogenic compounds known and very long lived), and any number of herbicides if their water supply happens to be a forested area, when the trees are privately/corporate owned. In addition to possible contamination w/fracking chemicals in some parts of the US.
An array of toxic herbicides are aerially sprayed in "clean" states like Oregon & Washington on private tree plantations aka "working forests", and until some local activists successfully obtained an injunction, the National Forest Service sprayed Agent Orange on national forests in the PNW, including the Suislaw National Forest. Agent Orange was contaminated, during the manufacturing process, with TCDD, a mutagenic & carcinogenic compound-one of the more toxic compounds known. It persists for a long time.

Particulates pollution from motor vehicle exhaust, the noise pollution created by heavy traffic, boom boom vehicles, megabass sound systems (anywhere, not just in motor vehicles), herbicides and other toxic chemical comp0unds (such as PFAS) can cause serious illnesses as well, including cancers (PFAS). So what's different about alcohol? Anyone who's sleep deprived because of loud noise knows how stressed someone can be from repeated exposure to loud noise. See also increased health issues documented for people living near busy airports, particularly if they live under a flight path.

Why single out alcohol?


Hi azure,

You make a good point. We have a society and government where the emphasis is on corporations making money not protecting the consumer.

But, alcohol causes a lot of damage. I mentioned to my GP once that she never told me about the link between cancer and alcohol. She said she sees so much damage that alcohol causes that families have to deal with. Apparently, she focuses on that kind of damage and not the cancer-alcohol link.

Corporations are so adverse about improving their products to make they safer for consumers. They fight standards for furniture tip-over and cords for window blinds, although both items kill and injure children.

Corporations don't like warning labels. I'm writing a book about my journalism career called "Follow the Money: My Life as a Financial Journalist." In reviewing the thousands of articles I've written, I came across one from 2009 about putting a warning label on hot dogs because people who eat hot dogs and other processed meats have a higher risk of cancer. Was the consumer group successful in getting the label placed on hot dogs and other processed meats? No.

I support any efforts for warning labels and hope more are proposed and put on consumer products.


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