Consumer and public health groups submitted a petition to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) making the case for a cancer warning on alcoholic beverages to increase consumer awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer. The petition urges TTB to undertake a congressional reporting process provided for by the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act of 1988, with the objective of amending the health warning statement required to appear on all alcoholic beverage labels.
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, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance.
Currently, all alcoholic beverage labels must include a warning statement regarding 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 say that information now documents this link between alcohol consumption and certain cancers. They point 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. The Surgeon General’s conclusions are consistent with those of other public health authorities, such as the National Cancer Institute, which says on its website that “there is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause several types of cancer.”
In light of this consensus, 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.”
Such a warning would save lives, the groups say, in part because most consumers are unaware 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% (50,110) of all cancer cases in women, and 4.8% (37,410) of all cancer cases in men, with the largest burden by far for female breast cancer (39,060 cases).
Despite these impacts, however, surveys from both 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 that contribution, supports the need for a warning label, according to the petitioners.