Bioethics Blogs

When warning is not informing: Alcohol labels will not be as straightforward as cigarette labels

News outlets have been discussing a call to require health warnings on alcoholic drinks comparable to those placed on cigarette packets. Amongst other recommendations, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Alcohol Misuse has called on political parties to include a health warning on all alcohol labels, and to deliver a government-funded national public awareness campaign on alcohol-related health issues.

If this proposal is to be implemented, it is important to note that there is an important disanalogy with placing health warnings on cigarette packaging. Whilst cigarettes always damage health to some degree, a large body of evidence suggests that moderate drinking is not only non-harmful to health but may in fact promote it. A recent post by an addiction and public health specialist surveys the evidence which, in its totality, seems to support his claim that ‘even drinking more than is “perfectly” recommended, without displaying clinical symptoms of problem drinking or alcohol dependence […] is generally better for you than drinking nothing.’ Amongst the evidence he discusses, Peele cites a 2008 review from the Royal Society on Alcoholism which concluded that ‘a considerable body of epidemiology associates moderate alcohol consumption with significantly reduced risks of coronary heart disease and, albeit currently a less robust relationship, cerebrovascular (ischemic) stroke.’ The same report reviewed a range of biological evidence that suggested that moderate alcohol levels exert direct neuroprotective actions. It concluded, ‘In over half of nearly 45 reports since the early 1990s, significantly reduced risks of cognitive loss or dementia in moderate, nonbinge consumers of alcohol (wine, beer, liquor) have been observed’.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.