Alcohol labels should contain clearer messaging about the dangers posed to health from drinking, experts have said.

The link between alcohol consumption and some cancers needs to be communicated so that people can make informed choices, according to the authors of a new article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The two researchers, who have links to the University of North Carolina, say that the alcohol industry has resisted efforts to raise awareness amongst consumers about the health risks associated with drinking.

Now they have proposed that warning labels on alcohol should be updated with more effective messaging.

Lead author Dr Anna H. Grummon, a Gillings alum and now a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “Many people are unaware of the full range of risks from alcohol consumption. For example, there is now scientific consensus that alcohol increases the risk of several types of cancer, including head and neck cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. But two-thirds of Americans are not aware of these risks.”

A recent study found that almost 70% of people in America were unaware that even moderate drinking can increase the risk of cancer.

Latest figures show that more than 140,000 deaths a year can be attributed to alcohol consumption – more than 380 deaths every day. In addition, alcohol-related deaths shot up during the pandemic, increasing by 25% during the first year alone.

The article suggests that updated warnings on packaging need to be implemented, replacing the current messaging that was written when less was known about the risks of drinking.

Using a rotation of photos or illustrations on cigarette packages has found to be effective, with warning labels helping to contribute to a reduction in smoking in the 150 countries that use them. The study authors say a similar approach should be adopted when it comes to alcohol, adding the government has a “duty” to warn consumers about the risk.

Senior author r Marissa G. Hall, an assistant professor in the Gillings School’s Department of Health Behavior and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said: “The current U.S. warning label hasn’t been updated in more than 30 years and largely goes unnoticed.

“Also, the warning says that alcohol ‘may cause health problems,’ a phrase so vague that it borders on being misleading. Given the mounting evidence about the harms caused by alcohol, the government has a duty to inform its citizens about these risks.”

The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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