1. Health
Warning Labels Unnoticed
Public Supports Making Alcohol Labels More Conspicuous
 
CSPI News Release

After ten years of health warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers, most Americans -- even those who drink -- don't notice or read the warning message. Three out of four persons in a national survey conducted for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said that they would be more aware of the warning message if it were easier to read.

Nearly three out of four drinkers (73%; 42% strongly) agree with the statement that warning messages "sometimes appear in the least prominent place on containers, making them difficult to notice and read." Among drinkers, only 34% said they generally noticed the warning label.

The CSPI poll surveyed 801 randomly selected American adults and was conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc. between July 29 and 31, 2001. Other findings include:

  • 63% of drinkers said they never notice the warning statement on alcohol containers and fewer than one in five say they notice it all or most of the time.

  • Only one out of five (21%) alcohol consumers say they're very familiar with the information in the warning statement.

  • Only 20 percent of consumers think that warning labels are always located in a conspicuous and prominent place. 40% of drinkers say "not very often" or "hardly ever."

  • 84% of drinkers think that placing the warning label in a prominent place on the front of all alcohol beverage containers would make the warning label more noticeable and readable.

  • Nearly nine in ten (88% of the drinkers) think that having warning labels printed in red or black type on a white background and surrounded by a lined border would make the labels more noticeable and readable.

"Consumers don't notice the warnings, don't read the warnings, and don't know what they say.  Consumers say warnings are too small, hard to find, often illegible, and sometimes hidden in an obscure place on a bottle or can," said George Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project. "Noticing the warning label should not be as difficult as finding "Waldo."

Significantly, the poll also found that the one-third of drinkers who say they usually notice the warning label are just as likely as other drinkers to say the warning message is difficult to read. The drinkers who usually notice the warning are also just as likely as other drinkers to believe that improvements in the presentation of the warning message would make it more effective. Apparently, just because some drinkers notice the message does not mean they believe it is effective in its present form.

Designed to Fail?

"The poll data clearly show that consumers think the warning statement was designed specifically not to be noticed," commented Marty McGough, who conducted the CSPI poll for Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. He added, "Most Americans seem to be saying that, from the standpoint of noticeability, many labels could hardly be worse."

The poll on warning messages was conducted in response to a request for public comment issued in May by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), which regulates the labeling of alcoholic beverages. The current proceeding is a response to a November 1999 petition, signed by 121 organizations and four members of Congress, seeking improved warning label requirements.

In addition to the poll results and comments to the agency, CSPI also submitted a statement supporting improved warning labels signed by more than 50 health officials, including deans of schools of medicine and public health, state health department directors, addiction specialists, and public health leaders, including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

"Congress passed the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act of 1988 to inform the American public and alcohol consumers of serious risks related to alcohol consumption. BATF has failed to carry out Congress' intent and failure to improve the warning messages now would only increase alcohol problems. It is high time for improvements," Hacker added.


The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on alcohol policies, nutrition, and other issues. It led efforts to obtain the warning label on alcoholic beverages and nutrition labels on foods. CSPI is supported largely by the 800,000 U.S. and Canadian subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and by foundation grants.

For more information on alcohol warning labels, click here.

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