Evidence on the effect of health warnings on alcoholic products 

Most research on the effect of alcohol warning labels are conducted in the United States after the introduction of labelling on alcoholic products in 1989. A review of studies [1] found that especially the highest risks groups (Young drinkers, pregnant women and heavy drinkers) became more likely to recall the messages and increased the awareness. However, the review article [1] found no or minimal effects of alcohol warning labels on behaviour.

This conclusion was underlined by the review report by Anderson [2] which shows that although health warnings on tobacco and nutrition are supposed to influence behaviour, studies of the limited experience for alcohol find no evidence of an impact of health warning labels in influencing behaviour. Health warnings on alcoholic products raise awareness and increase the conversation on the topic but do not affect the consumption of alcohol. Exceptions are pregnant women who are light consumers.

However, Anderson [2] argues that the introduction of warning labels on tobacco products was driven by the recognition that tobacco is not an ordinary commodity, and that this argument is also plausible to alcohol. Consumers should be informed about the risks of taking alcohol, especially the risks during pregnancy, when driving or operating machinery.

EU policy on health warnings on alcoholic products 

DG Sanco, the Directorate General on Health and Consumer Protection of the European Commission state in their report on Labelling of February 2006 that Health warnings could be an effective mean to inform consumers of alcoholic beverages about risks associated with inappropriate consumption of alcohol. The report mentions no possible effects of introducing health warnings besides informing consumers.

The European Parliament rejected calls from its own Health Committee to introduce standardised EU-wide health warnings on alcoholic drinks in September 2007. Instead, MEPs asked the Commission to initiate “a comparative study on the impact and effectiveness of various information and communication means, including labelling and advertising, applied in member states” and to publish the results by 2010.

In January 2008 the European Parliament decided to approve with a proposal to improve the current situation concerning the listing of ingredients of premixed alcoholic beverages in an attempt to conciliate the consumers’ needs for information with the specificities in the production of such products. According to the proposal, it will be mandatory to label a set of nutrients (energy, total fat, saturated fats, carbohydrates, sugars and salt) in the front of the package. There is a minimum font size of 3 mm for lettering on the labels, and mandatory back-of-the-pack guideline with the daily amounts (GDAs) estimating average requirements for energy for men and women aged between 19-50, of normal weight and fitness. Alcoholic drinks, except mixed products – qualified as alcopops – are currently excluded from the proposal. A Commission official referred to both the “complexity of production methods” and “political choice” as justification for allowing this derogation for wine, beer and spirits from the directive.

National policy on health warnings in European countries 

Alcoholic drinks already carry a health warning for the protection of pregnant women in France since 2005. According to a report of DG Sanco the labelling measure proposed by the France government will be an obstacle to the free movement of goods, but the measure is said to justified and proportionate to protect public health and therefore in accordance with Article 30 of the Treaty.

After the rejection of integrating health warnings in the EU by the European Parliament, different Member States took initiative to introduce alcohol health warnings themselves.
The Finnish government took initiative as well to add alcohol warning labels. These will be mandatory in 2009.

In the United Kingdom, alcoholic drinks will carry new health warnings by the end of 2008 under a voluntary agreement between ministers and the drinks industry. The new labels will detail alcoholic units and recommended safe drinking levels. It is not clear yet what the exact information on the labels will be, but they will be less strong than for cigarettes. The Public Health NGO Alcohol Concerns says in an interview with BBC that it welcomes the scheme but that it did not go far enough.

In 2013 Moreno et al. published a literature review in the European Journal of Public Health with the goal of summarizing alcohol labelling policy worldwide and examining available evidence to support enhanced labelling. The authors conclude: Current evidence seems to support prompt inclusion of a list of ingredients, nutritional information (usually only kcal) and health warnings on labels. Standard drink and serving size is useful only when combined with other health education efforts. A definition of ‘moderate intake’ and recommended drinking guidelines are best suited to other contexts.

[1] Stockwell, T. (February 2006). A review of Research into the Impact of alcohol Warning Labels on Attitudes and Behaviour. British Colombia, Canada: Centre for Addictions Research of BC.
[2] Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen e.V. (DHS) (2008). Consumer Labelling and Alcoholic Drinks. Hamm, Germany: DHS

[3] The effectiveness of current French health warnings displayed on alcohol advertisements and alcoholic beverages
Gloria Dossou1, Karine Gallopel-Morvan1, Jacques-Francois Diouf1,2
1 EHESP School of Public Health, EA 7348 MOS, Rennes Cedex, France 2 Graduate School of Management, University of Rennes 1, UMR 6211 CREM, Rennes, France

The European Journal of Public Health, Vol. 27, No. 4, 699–704  The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association. All rights reserved. Access published on 16 February 2017 

Correspondence: Karine Gallopel-Morvan, EHESP School of Public Health, 15 Avenue du Professeur Leon Bernard, CS 74312 – 35043 Rennes Cedex, France, Tel: +33 (0)6 75 36 91 62, Fax: +33 (0)2 99 02 26 25, e-mail:

Recent literature

  1. O’Brien P in 2019 Dec;27(2):259-273: Warning Labels about Alcohol Consumption and Pregnancy: Moving from  Industry Selfregulation to Law. Link to abstract