Otago Daily times

23 May; By John Gibb

New Zealanders should take “a good long look in the mirror” over the need to improve “highly deficient” warning labels on alcohol containers, University of Otago researchers say.

“We’re not doing a very good job,” Tessa Gray, one of the researchers, said. Alcohol labelling “needs to be taken more seriously,” she said. The researchers suggested that current voluntary labelling had not worked in this country.

Mandatory standardised labelling – which outlined major alcohol-related risks including those around pregnancy, drink-driving and cancer – was probably required. “We need to provide them [the community] with accurate information,” Ms Gray said. “Marketing material dominates what is on the alcohol container and there is little attention paid to consumers’ right to know the health risks of the product,” she said. There was a need to “have a good long look in the mirror at how we’re doing and what we need to improve,” Ms Gray said.

Regulated mandatory labelling was seen elsewhere, including in the EU, Canada, and the United States, and some of those labels were many times larger than those in this country.

Based on a study of 59 alcoholic beverage containers available here, the researchers found some alcohol containers lacked warning labels, and others had “pea-size” pregnancy warnings. Some of the warnings also appeared to be misdirected. About 80% of containers offered warnings about the risk of drinking while pregnant, but these labels were mainly on beer, a product more commonly marketed to men.

The Ministry of Transport has found that alcohol and drugs contributed to 29% of fatal road crashes in this country in 2014-16, but the Otago researchers found that only 19% of the drink containers warned about drink-driving.

The research was undertaken by a group of fourth-year medical students, led by Georges Taenia and Ms Gray, at Otago University’s Wellington campus, and published in the international journal Drug and Alcohol Review.

The voluntary labels were in “striking contrast” to the large pictorial warnings on all tobacco packaging sold in this country. The size and design of the alcohol warnings also did not reflect the evidence that the total health harm from alcohol was similar to that caused by tobacco. The authors were calling for mandatory standardised labelling in New Zealand, partly to “avoid the inconsistencies identified in the study”, they said.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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