Canada: Big Alcohol Lobbied To Upend Cancer Warning Study
The alcohol industry lobbied to upend a scientific study into the effects of cancer warning labels attached to alcohol products on people’s attitudes and behaviours in Yukon, Canada.
A Globe and Mail Access to Information request exposed alcohol industry efforts to shut down research about how warning labels could influence consumers’ attitudes and behaviours. For eight months, new, more prominent stickers would be attached to cans and bottles of alcohol warning of cancer risks associated with alcohol consumption. The study was supposed to be a public health experiment, backed by Health Canada and Yukon’s chief medical officer of health. The research was part of a larger public health strategy, and Yukon provided an enthusiastic testing ground.
Keeping alcohol cancer awareness low
However, the alcohol industry in Yukon was opposed to the government-funded study that put cancer warnings on alcohol bottles. Big Alcohol lobbied the Yukon government to shut it down – as e-mails show.
In December – shortly after the study had begun the Yukon Liquor Corp. suspended the investigation by researchers from Public Health Ontario and the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. The study resumed in March, but references to the cancer risks associated with drinking are no longer on the labels.
The liquor industry indicated a possibility and/or likelihood of legal action.
The challenge to us as a small jurisdiction was to decide whether to spend money on social responsibility messaging through a range of tools, or to risk spending significant money on protracted legal costs … we chose to direct resources toward social responsibility initiatives,” told Yukon Liquor Corp. manager Patch Groenewegen to ‘As It Happens’ in an emailed statement.
Lying about alcohol’s carcinogenicity
Beer Canada claimed in their letter that the claim on the label, that alcohol can cause cancer, is a misleading statement. In an interview, Tim Stockwell, the co-principal investigator on the study and the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, reacted to Beer Canada’s claim:
It’s utterly false. The really almost laughable thing about these emails is that they’re purporting to be … experts on the health consequences of drinking alcohol.
[The American Society of Clinical Oncology] put out a statement in The Lancet recently celebrating 30 years and saying, “Why has there been no action? Why is it hardly anybody knows alcohol causes cancer?”
This is the reason. Because when you try and put the message out there, it’s squashed.”
One of the companies that Beer Canada represents and speaks on behalf of is MolsonCoors, one of the biggest beer producers in the world. MolsonCoors is also one of the corporations behind the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, the front group of Big Alcohol on global level.
Alcohol causes cancer
Irony has it that the story about Big Alcohol’s lobbying to shut down this study was published the very same day that the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRFI) released its third expert report “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective“. The Third Expert Report from the WCRFI’s Continuous Update Project (CUP) is the world’s largest source of scientific research on cancer prevention through diet, nutrition and physical activity.
The report finds that there is strong evidence that
… consuming alcoholic drinks increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx; oesophagus (squamous cell carcinoma) and breast (pre and postmenopause).”
The report recommends:
For cancer prevention it’s best not to [consume] alcohol.”