Alcohol cancer labelling advocates unfazed by Yukon threats

Legal threats of the kind which abruptly halted the first trial of cancer warning labels in Canada’s Yukon territory before Christmas are not altering plans elsewhere.

Measures proposed last month in Australia call for “readable, impactful” warning labels. And Gerald Nash, an Irish senator, introduced an amendment to a recent alcohol bill to include cancer warnings.

“Given the strength and level of support expressed in the Senate, I expect that the bill will receive the same level of support when it moves to the Dàil [Ireland’s Lower House],” Nash told Alcohol Companion.

Donal Buggy of the Irish Cancer Society says he is confident, “The public health imperative for inclusion of cancer-specific labelling warnings will prevail over the narrow sectoral interests of the alcohol industry.”

Legal threats are “not an issue” in Australia, says Michael Thorn, head of Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education: “Australia took it up to the tobacco industry on plain packaging and won.”

The initial focus of Thorn’s efforts will be to  secure mandated warning labels on the dangers of drinking while pregnant, paving the way for others. This might happen in the next 18 months, he says.

In Ireland, meanwhile, one seasoned observer suggests public support for the alcohol bill would mean any attempt by the alcohol industry to stand in its way would be a “PR disaster”.

The next phase of alcohol industry resistance there seems more likely to be quibbling about the format and wording of warning labels than whether they appear.

It is currently unclear whether the Yukon trial will restart. 

Legal warnings halt first cancer label scheme

Legal warnings from alcohol brand-owners have halted the world’s first trial of labels warning that consuming alcohol increases the risk of cancer, raising question marks over similar plans elsewhere.

Unnamed alcohol brand owners have warned the state-owned alcohol retailer applying the labels in Canada’s Yukon territory that it may be infringing trademarks and guilty of defamation, say local media reports.

The Yukon trial had been running from one shop for little more than one of the eight months intended. No new labels have been applied to bottles and cans, but those already applied have be left in place. The trial began late last month.

The enforced hiatus may have implications elsewhere: Ireland decided this month to introduce labels warning of the risk, while Australia’s newly-released draft alcohol strategy mentions alcohol’s contribution to cancer cases and suggests “readable, impactful” warning labels.

Campaigners have also raised concerns that the labels have replaced rather than supplemented labels warning of the risk of drinking alcohol in pregnancy. Labels saying “Warning, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects” had been applied since 1991.

The trial is part of the second phase of the Northern Territories Alcohol Study led by researchers from Public Health Ontario and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria. Its research suggests enhanced labelling could have benefits.

Yukon has the highest alcohol sales per head in in Canada. ■

UPDATE: Canada’s Yukon to have world’s first alcohol cancer warning labels

The Yukon territory in Canada will be the first place in the world to trial the sale of alcoholic drinks carrying labels warning of an elevated risk of cancer (pictured).

“Yukon has a chance to be a leader in Canada, as well as internationally, to demonstrate the potential benefits of labelling alcohol containers,” said Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer.

For the next eight months the new warning labels will be applied to alcoholic products sold at the Whitehorse Liquor Store in Whitehorse, the western territory’s capital this month.

As elsewhere in the world labels have previously targeted pregnant women and warned of the dangers of combining alcohol consumption with operating machinery.

The eye-catching new labels are part of the second phase of the Northern Territories Alcohol Study led by researchers from Public Health Ontario and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.

This experiment is informed by the unit’s recent research on the potential benefits of enhanced labelling.  There have previously been surveys to assess the cancer warning labels in Australia.

Yukon has the highest alcohol sales per head in in Canada.


[cutting] Cancer Research UK develops alcohol tracker for Amazon Alexa | Cancer Research

Cancer Research UK has created an Amazon Alexa Skill so users can track their alcohol consumption and raise awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer.


[cutting/comment] Alcohol and cancer: What does a ‘500% increase’ in risk really mean? | Health News Review

Last night, NBC Nightly News ran a story about the cancer risks related to alcohol consumption. But instead of communicating those risks in a way that would educate and inform, NBC’s coverage was an example of misinformation and fear-mongering. … Viewers who think an MD byline ensures the ultimate in accurate and balanced TV reporting should think again.


Comment:  Agreed: Journalists should try to include absolute risk in their stories. So we should not just say, for instance, that the odds of something happening has doubled, but from what. Has it gone from, say, one in a million to two in a million or from one in three to two in three? That said, indications of absolute risk are often not readily available. Journalists cannot be expected to do the advanced statistical conjuring needed to turn relative risk into absolute risk, whether or not they are medical doctors. Medical doctors too are also rarely advanced statisticians, nor can they be expected to be familiar with all the epidemiological nuances they would need to perform such a manipulation. I would also shy away from interfering with data in this way, knowing as a rusty mathematician that it is unlikely to be straightforward. In this particular case, as in many others, the statement from the American Society of Clinical Oncology only contains figures for relative risk (see table), although this accompanying release says 5-6% of new cancers and cancer deaths are “directly attributable to alcohol”. The society told Alcohol Companion that its figures imply around 3,326 deaths from alcohol related cancer for every 100,000 cancer deaths, meaning alcohol is involved in around 1 in 30 cancer deaths. Incidentally, heavy drinking appears to multiply the risk of head and neck cancer by five, which is a 400% increase in risk, rather than the 500% in the graphic and headline. It would be interesting to know if the society has more detailed absolute risk figures for each type of cancer. Typically news stories will need to be reported well before any request for additional figures is answered. ■

[cutting] Cancer doctors cite risks of drinking alcohol | New York Times

“The message is not, ‘Don’t drink.’ It’s, ‘If you want to reduce your cancer risk, drink less. And if you don’t drink, don’t start,’” said Dr. Noelle LoConte, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, statement. “It’s different than tobacco where we say, ‘Never smoke. Don’t start.’ This is a little more subtle.”


[cutting] Even light drinking raises cancer risk, Korean study shows | Chosun Ilbo

Light drinkers had a higher chance of developing cancer than non-drinkers. Specifically, light drinkers had a 50% higher chance of developing esophageal cancer and were 12% and 5% more at risk of colorectal and stomach cancers. People who consumed just one shot glass of soju a day were still at higher risk for cancer than non-drinkers.