HALIFAX – When it comes to curbing binge drinking and the associated health and social problems, could a graphic warning be the answer?
Researchers at St. Mary’s University have conducted a study, published this week in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, that looks at whether warning labels similar to those found on cigarette cartons can prevent problem drinking.
“Chances are, once positive association with the product is decreased, the consumer doesn’t want the product as much,” said Mohammed Al-hamdani, the first author of the study.
The 92 adult participants were shown either a regular bottle of alcohol, one with a text warning detailing the risks of alcohol abuse, one with the text and an image of liver damage or a plain bottle featuring the text and image but without the brand’s logo.
The study found that participants perceived the bottles with warnings “less positively,” especially in the case of the plain bottle with the text and graphic warning.
“There are a lot of brand imagery elements on the alcohol bottle or container otherwise that would distract the consumer,” said Al-hamdani.
“So when you see a beautiful logo or nice intertwining colours, they will definitely capture your attention and the little text warning on the bottom of the bottle or the backside of the label will not stand any chance of being noticed.”
Kevin Chapman, the director of partnerships and strategy with Doctors Nova Scotia, believes the idea of warning labels could help in combating the serious problem of binge drinking.
Chapman says he thinks the warning labels can balance out the advertising and promotions alcohol companies utilize by reminding consumers to drink responsibly.
“We’ve seen enormous social issues from alcohol consumption, binge drinking resulting in deaths,” he said.
“It is something I think we have to be very, very deliberate and intentioned about and we have to make sure if individuals are going to smoke or they’re going to drink alcohol they do so responsibly and in an informed kind of way.”
Alcohol producers have mixed feelings
Both Al-hamdani and Chapman believe the public would be receptive to the idea of alcohol warning labels. However, alcohol producers have reservations.
Evan MacEachern recently opened Nova Scotia Spirit Co., a Pictou County-based distillery.
While he’s open to the idea of warning labels, he thinks the use of the graphic photo goes too far.
“I do agree that it’s important to observe socially-responsible behaviour when drinking or when serving alcohol,” MacEachern said.
“But I don’t think that the warning labels have to go so far as to resemble like cigarette packages. I think that spirits, beer, wine, drinking in general should be enjoyable experience. I think a lot of people drink it for the flavour and I think having a photo that resembles something like a cigarette package would take away from that experience.”
Al-hamdani says it is too early to say whether the warning labels will actually work in curbing problem drinking.
“I suggest that we conduct multiple studies with different health warnings in different jurisdictions and if we find the same results over and over again, then that’s a question for policy makers to consider whether it’s something that is important for public health or not,” he said.