Labelling provides a unique opportunity for governments to disseminate health promotion messages at the points of sale and consumption
Health information labels are an inexpensive tool that provides direct information on the risks associated with legal or illegal consumption
Warning and product labelling
Product-labelling regulation is an important instrument in promoting healthier habits and public institutions are ideally positioned to utilize it. For consumers, the food label is the principal source of information at the point of sale. It is the right of consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase, and it is the obligation of public institutions to ensure consumers are able to do so. Labels could be considered as part of a comprehensive strategy to provide information and educate consumers to prevent and reduce drug-related harm. This policy option should be seen not as an initiative that will modify behavior overnight, but as a way of bringing gradual change over time.
Labelling and health information
Labelling provides a unique opportunity for governments to disseminate health promotion messages at the points of sale and consumption. Health information labels are an inexpensive tool that provides direct information on the risks associated with alcohol consumption. Health information labels can deliver clear messages about the harm to the individual and others of consuming alcoholic drinks. Such harm includes damage to physical health (cirrhosis of the liver, cancers, etc.), mental health issues, physical injuries, violence and the risk of dependence. In addition, specific messages could warn of the dangers of consuming alcohol during pregnancy and when driving a vehicle, underage, operating machinery or taking certain medications. As on tobacco products, warning labels could have a standard format and design, irrespective of the particular brand of the alcoholic beverage, thereby ensuring better visibility. Health information messages could be accompanied by a recommendation for action; for example: “If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, call [appropriate help line and phone number] or visit [appropriate website].” This message could be in a smaller font than the health information message.
There are four message components that may be considered when developing an effective health label, each serving a different purpose: (i) signal word to attract attention; (ii) identification of the problem; (iii) explanation of the consequences if exposed to the problem; and (iv) instructions for avoiding the problem. The visual impact of the label can be enhanced by using large, bold print; high contrast; colour; borders; and pictorial symbols. Previous research has shown that consumers prefer short front-label claims to lengthy back-label explanations, or a combination of both. Furthermore, studies have reported greater effectiveness for labels using graphics and symbols, adjective labels, and labels with minimal numerical content. Knowledge of the nutritional value and ingredient information of alcoholic beverages is very limited; there is a demand among consumers to receive this kind of information. Surprisingly few studies have analysed consumer interest in nutritional labels on alcoholic beverages. However, the findings bring to light a clear information gap (limited knowledge of the nutritional content of alcoholic drinks) and a strong interest expressed by consumers for nutritional information to be included on labels.
Suggestions for product labelling
- Inclusion of a list of ingredients and nutritional information (such as energy content) on containers.
- Provision of information on labels explaining impact on health.
- Label should be placed in a standard location on the container.
- Size of the label should be determined as a minimum percentage of the size of the container.
- Rotating messages should be used, with sufficient vividness and strength to attract consumers.
- Text should be clearly separated from other information on the label (for example, placed in boxes with thick borders).
- Text should be written in the official language(s) of the country in which the product is sold.
- Images used should be informational in style and taken from ongoing educational campaigns.
- Listing the ingredients contained in a particular beverage alerts the consumer to the presence of any potentially harmful or problematic substances. No less important, providing nutritional information such as energy content allows consumers to monitor their diets better and makes it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
As an option for action, WHO, in line with the European action plan, proposes that measures could be taken to introduce a series of warning or information labels on all alcoholic beverage containers, providing information both on ingredients and on the risks associated with alcohol consumption: damage to health (cirrhosis of the liver, cancers), risk of dependence, and dangers associated with drinking alcohol when pregnant, driving a vehicle, operating machinery and taking certain medications. Health messages on labels can increase knowledge and encourage a change in perception of the risks associated with alcohol consumption. As public health professionals search for effective policies to address alcohol-related harm, labels stand out as an underutilized way of empowering consumers to make healthy decisions about alcohol intake. Labelling provides a unique opportunity for governments to disseminate health messages at the point of sale and point of consumption. Placing health information on alcoholic drinks and containers targets the appropriate audience (the drinker) at the appropriate time (when purchasing and using the product).