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Alcohol labeling key to making ‘informed choices’: experts

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Following the release of new alcohol consumption guidelines by the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) on Tuesday, health experts say mandatory labeling of alcoholic beverages is playing a key role in raising awareness of the negative effects of alcohol consumption on health.

In addition to new recommendations on the number of alcoholic beverages Canadians should consume in a week, CCSA’s updated guidelines also call on Health Canada to require labels on all alcoholic beverages. These labels would include details of the number of standard glasses in a container, as well as health warnings.

“People have a right to know,” CCSA CEO Dr. Alexander Caudarella told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to completely eliminate risk, it just means that…they have the right to make informed and free decisions.”

Awareness of alcohol-related health risks remains low in Canada, said Kara Thompson, an associate professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Thompson was also one of the consultants involved in developing the new guidelines.

Knowing how many drinks are in a drink bottle or can will make it easier for people to count their drinks, she said.

“We hope we’re giving people information they can use to make more informed choices about their drinking and reduce their alcohol-related harms,” ​​she told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.

This is the first time CCSA’s low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines have been updated since 2011. According to the new recommendations, Canadians should aim to consume no more than two standard drinks per week to avoid serious health consequences.

Consuming three to six drinks per week is associated with moderate health risks and increases the risk of developing cancers such as those affecting the colon and breast. Meanwhile, drinking seven or more drinks a week comes with a high risk of negative health effects, including heart disease and stroke.

In Canada, a standard drink is considered to be one of the following: 12 oz. of beer with five percent alcohol, five oz. of wine with 12 percent alcohol, or 1.5 oz. hard liquor at 40 percent alcohol.

Previous CCSA guidelines on low-risk drinking suggested a maximum of 10 drinks per week for women and 15 drinks per week for men. These recommendations also form the basis of Health Canada’s alcohol consumption guidelines.

Given the links to cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society (CSC) is also calling on the federal government to introduce mandatory labeling on alcoholic beverages, said Elizabeth Holmes, senior health policy manager at the SSC. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, notes CCSA.

“Over 40% of Canadians don’t know that alcohol increases the risk of cancer,” she told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk of cancer.”

Even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of cancer, Holmes said.

However, for those who reduce their alcohol intake, it may lead to some benefits down the road, Thompson said.

“There is evidence that reducing alcohol consumption will reverse some of the harmful effects of alcohol,” she said.

CHANGES IN ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION REQUIRE CULTURAL CHANGE: EXPERT

Over the past 12 years, the scientific evidence regarding the impacts of alcohol consumption has changed dramatically, Caudarella said. The latest guidelines stem from a report released by the CCSA in August 2022, which is based on two years of research and more than 5,000 peer-reviewed studies.

While this has led to changes in the latest CCSA guidelines, there also needs to be a shift in thinking about the health risks posed by alcohol consumption, Caudarella said.

“There can no longer be a line drawn in the sand, below which we can guarantee safety,” he said. “There is no entirely safe amount.”

Additionally, cutting back on consumption can be difficult because of the cultural role that alcohol plays as part of social networks, Thompson said. In order to facilitate this cultural shift, the federal government must also play a role, she said.

“We know that when alcohol is cheap and readily available, people drink more,” she said. “So bringing in better regulations on things like marketing and advertising, availability and price of alcohol, and those warning labels can really help shift the culture in a positive direction. .”


With files by Tom Yun from CTVNews.ca and The Canadian Press

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