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. ■