Alcohol and Cancer

The Irish legislature, the Oireachtas, is considering adding a warning label about drinking and cancer to alcoholic beverages. Ireland would be the first country to have such a  warning label. America has had labels that warn about drinking while pregnant and driving while intoxicated since 1988. Wine labels  also inform the consumer that the bottle contains sulfites.

In Ireland the issue is pitting Alcohol Action Ireland, public health advocates against the liquor industry represented by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI). Alcohol Action is presenting the legislation  as necessary to protect public health and safety while the industry is concerned about the effect the legislation would have on the economy, including tourism. This is the perennial tension that has existed in America since the end of Prohibition.

A warning label that mentions cancer could be the first sign that public perception about  drinking is moving in a more negative direction. Alcohol, particularly  beer, has gained a seemingly ever increasing integration into American society. Recently both craft beer and craft distilled spirits have captured the public’s attention.

In the 19th century smoking and drinking were both considered vices. In the first few decades of the 20th century tobacco gained market share while alcohol endured Prohibition. Since the 1960’s the two industries’ fortunes reversed.  Access to tobacco became severely curtailed while alcohol gained greater cultural acceptance and societal integration.

Since the 1960s the wine industry has pushed for labels that would state the heart health benefits of drinking the product. It is possible that the tide would change again if the claim that drinking is implicated in breast and other cancers becomes more widely known.