Education boosts public support for higher alcohol prices

Apr 2, 2020

According to the results of a new study carried out by researchers at the University of Toronto and University of Victoria, people who learn that alcohol can cause cancer are significantly more likely to support policies that raise alcohol prices. This research demonstrates that fewer than 25% of Canadians who consume alcohol are aware that alcohol is a carcinogen. This research was recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

“Alcohol regulations, particularly regulations that increase the price of alcohol, tend to be unpopular in Canada, but improving public awareness of alcohol-related health harms like cancer, using tools such as adding warning labels to alcohol containers that link consumption and cancer risk for example, increases public receptiveness to alcohol control policies,” said Dr. Erin Hobin, senior author of the study, in her interview with U of T News, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and senior author of the study.

Moreover, other studies demonstrate that policies aimed to augment the price of alcohol are currently the most effective type of intervention for decreasing alcohol consumption and harms.

Alcohol has been identified as a group one carcinogen by the World Health Organization, which is in the same category as asbestos and tobacco smoke, and alcohol consumption has been associated with increased risk of at least seven different types of cancer.

The study was carried out in Yukon and involved testing three different labels for alcohol, with one label informing consumers of associated cancer risk, another label advising on safe level of alcohol consumption, and the third label informing of the number of drinks contained in the product. 

“Our ultimate goal with this study was to determine if well-designed alcohol labels are an effective tool for supporting consumers in making more informed and safer alcohol decisions,”

Dr. Erin Hobin, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and senior author of the study

Yukon and the Northwest Territories have the highest alcohol consumption in Canada and their governments have applied alcoholic beverage labels since 1991, including warnings against drinking during pregnancy and an additional message in Northwest Territories that cautions about the dangers of drinking and driving.

However, just days after the research was launched, the alcohol industry representatives have requested removal of the labels, denying any association between alcohol and cancer risk. Two months later, the study was resumed, on the condition that labels informing consumers of alcohol-associated cancer risk would be removed. According to surveys carried out by researchers among liquor store patrons, improved awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer resulted in higher support for increased alcohol pricing.