Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Young drinkers believe prominent health warnings on alcohol could boost risk awareness

Recent focus group research supports Alcohol Focus Scotland’s ask to mandate nutrition and health information on alcohol labels to enable people to make informed and healthier choices.

New research from the Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH), commissioned by AFS, has concluded that current alcohol labelling is failing to inform Scottish consumers about the potential risks of drinking. It found that prominent warnings on alcohol packaging could help to capture attention, increase awareness of alcohol-related harms, and may support a reduction in consumption and alcohol-related harms.

The focus groups revealed that young adult drinkers in Scotland view health information currently provided on alcohol labels as unnoticeable and ineffective. Participants expressed mistrust in alcohol manufacturers to display health warning information and suggested that they seek to minimise the amount, noticeability, and effectiveness of health information on alcohol packaging. Participants also generally believed that the industry’s responsible drinking messages were ambiguous and unhelpful.

There was support for providing health information and messaging on alcohol labels. For example, participants thought that including nutritional information and ingredients would be useful, particularly for people with health concerns, specific dietary requirements, or those on diets or in training. Some participants questioned why alcohol packaging doesn’t carry the same level of information on its contents as other consumer goods, such as food or beauty products.

Most thought that health warnings could increase awareness of alcohol-related harms, especially for younger or potential drinkers. Health warnings on specific health issues, such as cancer and liver disease, were particularly attention-grabbing and taken seriously. Participants felt that to be effective, health warnings should be prominent, visible, and relatable.  Strong hypothetical reactions to the health warnings shown to them in the groups suggested that these may have an impact on norms and behaviour around alcohol.

Daniel Jones, Institute for Social Marketing and Health, stated: “Participants did not feel that messaging currently provided voluntarily by manufacturers on alcohol products adequately informs consumers about the potential dangers associated with alcohol use. Most participants thought warnings on alcohol products was a novel concept, despite being accustomed to them on tobacco products. They felt that such warnings could increase consumers’ awareness of the health risks posed by alcohol consumption, particularly for younger or potential drinkers.”

“Our study found that those who supported introducing warnings felt that they should be noticeable, fact-based and relevant to real life. Participants found that large, combined text and image warnings displayed on the front of packaging, and containing specific information, were the most engaging and potentially effective.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said, “It is telling that participants reported a lack of trust in alcohol companies to provide health and nutritional information voluntarily. They also noted that, even when some information was provided, it was often small and unnoticeable. The public want and deserve better and it is clear that the alcohol industry won’t do this willingly. It is time for the Scottish Government to act and use its powers to set out labelling requirements for alcoholic products in law.”

“This new research demonstrates just how important it is for health and nutritional information to be provided on product labels where it can usefully inform our decisions. Alcohol producers continue to show a complete disregard for our right to know what is in our drinks and what the risks associated with alcohol consumption are. Currently more information is required on a pint of milk than on a bottle of wine and this is unacceptable.”

Given the role of packaging in promoting alcohol consumption, the forthcoming UK Government consultation on alcohol labelling is a key opportunity to take action to ensure consumers can make informed and healthier choices.


Read the report Health information, messaging and warnings on alcohol packaging: A focus group study with young adult drinkers in Scotland


Read the journal article Health information, messaging and warnings on alcohol packaging: a focus group study with young adult drinkers in Scotland



3 March 2021.