Get used to booze labels

Yukoners like to drink, so we should be reminded of the risks

We count on our government to warn us of danger. We take it for granted that we will hear of product recalls, e-coli in food, problems with bears, or a risk of avalanche. In fact, if government didn’t share this information, it would be in some serious trouble.

So it’s understandable that our territorial government thought to warn us of the dangers of drinking alcohol too. The only problem is, it seems we may not be ready to hear about this one.

As part of a research project funded by Health Canada, Yukon government started putting labels on our booze explaining drinking guidelines, standard drink sizes, and warning of the possible risk of cancer. It’s widely known that we Yukoners drink more than most Canadians, after the Northwest Territories. And we know that this can’t be good for us. It’s harmful to our economy with increased health care costs, lower productivity and more car accidents, to name a few issues.

It’s also harmful to our health. When Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health tells us there is link between alcohol and cancer, it’s something to be taken seriously.

And Hanley is not alone. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer said in a report in 2015 on alcohol consumption that Canadians who drink regularly risk developing chronic conditions, including cancer. Even the World Health Organization is pretty clear about a causal link between drinking and cancer and lists alcohol as a carcinogen.

So it made sense that Yukon would participate in a study putting warning labels on our liquor. And they were pretty tame labels, I might add, without any menacing photos like you see on a cigarette package. The question was, would the warning labels change our drinking habits?

While the backlash from the liquor industry to the labels was, well, predictable, the response from ordinary Yukoners maybe caught our government by surprise. People seemed to take the labels almost as an invasion of their privacy because the message was so blunt. Or they were frustrated that more wasn’t being done to help those most impacted by addiction.

Yukon government back-pedalled, at first stopping the labeling, and then restarting, but with some notable exemptions: locally produced alcohol, aluminum cans, and small liquor bottles will not have warning labels. Most importantly, there are no more labels pointing out that drinking alcohol may cause cancer.

It was not that long ago that we had a very similar debate about warning labels on cigarettes. In the late ‘80s, we started with simple black-and-white messages on a pack of smokes. Gradually, the warnings on cigarettes have become more prominent and more striking. We now have warnings covering 75 per cent of a package of cigarettes, with an explanation and graphic image depicting the most gruesome ailments. The graphic warnings have had a significant impact on the rates of smoking and the number of attempts to quit smoking in Canada.

In the near future, Ottawa is going to require warning labels on foods high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat. The goal of these labels is pretty simple — to make it easy for us to make informed, healthy choices. With more and more Canadians struggling with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, our federal government is taking a bold approach to labelling food. Health Canada officials estimate that perhaps up to half our food in the grocery store might be carrying these warning labels when the new regulations are fully in effect in 2022. We will have to wait and see just how much these labels change our eating habits.

When it comes to warning labels on alcohol, we are a little further behind. Lots of countries around the world require labels warning of the harmful effects of alcohol — for example, see the website for the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking. Most labels encourage drinking in moderation and avoiding alcohol while pregnant. Notably, Korea is currently the only country that requires a label warning of the risk of cancer from alcohol.

If anything, it’s telling about our relationship with alcohol that we would rather not know, or at least not talk about, the most serious potential health impacts of drinking.

If most of us are going to drink alcohol, maybe a little more public education about the risks isn’t such a bad thing. Just like we do with smoking. And just like we will soon be doing with our groceries. But government is going to have to find a gentler and more gradual way to break the news to us on its next attempt.

Shaunagh Stikeman is a lawyer, facilitator and community advocate who lives in Whitehorse.

alcoholpublic health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read