Advocacy

Labeling

Adoption Date:
October 1, 1979; rev. April 1, 2008

Public Policy Statement on Labeling

PDF

Background

The American Society of Addiction Medicine firmly defends the public's right to know, and supports the adoption of all effective methods of public education on the potential dangers associated with the excessive use of alcohol, to encourage informed decision making by the public, and to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related problems.

Federal law now requires labels of alcoholic beverages to include health warnings, akin to health warnings on cigarette packages. Warning labels on alcoholic beverages, however, are not currently required to be in large block letters or set off from the rest of the label by a clear box, as is the case with cigarette warnings.

Also required in some jurisdictions are health education posters on the need to avoid consumption of alcoholic beverages during pregnancy: Retail outlets for alcoholic beverage sales, taverns, and restrooms in licensed beverage outlets including taverns and restaurants, are required to display such posters in various states and municipalities.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine believes that warning labels on alcoholic beverages are salutary and should be made mandatory for all forms of alcohol. Labeling regulations should be accompanied by carefully designed and adequately funded studies of the effectiveness of such mandatory practices in improving public awareness of the hazards of excessive alcohol use.

The scientific literature continues to produce data on the health benefits of consumption of small quantities of beverage alcohol for the general population (though excluding children or pregnant women). The alcoholic beverage industry has made clear their preference that alcoholic beverages include labels promoting such alleged health benefits. ASAM believes that such labeling would be counterproductive, for it would be impractical to include in labeling the necessary qualifying information, e.g., that such health benefits do not accrue to children or pregnant women, may not accrue in certain older age groups, and certainly do not apply to individuals with a personal history of a substance use disorder.

Recommendations

The American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends:

1. that all alcohol beverage containers (bottles, cans, boxes, and the like) be required to have on their labels the alcohol content of the beverage in volume percent, the total number of grams of ethanol in each standard portion, a definition of a ‘standard drink’ of alcohol, the number of calories in a ‘standard drink,’ and the number of ‘standard drinks’ in each container intended for retail sale. However, no alcoholic beverage should be considered a food.

2. that all alcoholic beverage labels should list additives and allergens, as do wines which currently indicate the inclusion of sulfites.

3. that warning labels about the adverse effects of alcohol continue to be required, and that they be required to be presented in a format that is easy to read and clearly separated from the other text on the beverage label.

4. that such labeling requirements be applied to all alcoholic beverages, all containers of alcoholic beverages intended for retail sale, and to all print and Internet/e-mail advertising for alcoholic beverages.

5. that labels on containers of alcoholic beverages intended for retail sale be prohibited by federal and state law from including messages promoting alleged beneficial health effects of consumption of beverage alcohol.

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