Home > Contents unknown – how alcohol labelling still fails consumers.

Doyle, Anne (2022) Contents unknown – how alcohol labelling still fails consumers. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 83, Winter 2022, p. 12.

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Following on from the United Kingdom’s (UK) Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) 2020 report on alcohol labelling,1 further research was carried out by AHA to examine if alcohol labelling provides information on low-risk guidelines, ingredients, calories, and health information.2

Alcohol use is associated with seven different types of cancer and many other health conditions and is the leading risk factor for morbidity and mortality among those aged 15–49 years. Yet many people are unaware of this risk and it is not legally binding to display this information on alcohol products.3,4


In the 2022 AHA study, photographs of 369 labels on alcohol products were assessed to examine what information was provided and compared to the findings from the 2020 report.1

Key findings

Low-risk guidelines: Low-risk guidelines were visible in 65% of the alcohol products, an improvement on the 2020 study figures (29%). Over one-third of products were not providing accurate information despite an agreement between the Scottish government and the alcohol industry that the guidelines would be provided on all alcohol products.

Health warnings: Despite alcohol classified as a group 1 carcinogen, just 3% of products contained this information on their labelling and only one product had a specific cancer warning.

Nutritional information: The nutritional information shown on the alcohol products were as follows: 41% displayed calorie content; 6% displayed the sugar content; 5% displayed full nutritional content; and 20% had a full list of the ingredients.

Unit information: Not all alcohol products had unit information displayed (85%). Unit information is important for consumers to determine how much of their weekly low-risk limit they are consuming.

Other warnings: The majority of products had pregnancy warnings displayed (97%), 24% had drink-drive warnings, and 16% had age warnings.

Signposting to further information: Over three-quarters of labels advised consumers of an industry-funded organisation to obtain further information (76%). The authors noted that it would be preferable if an independent source be displayed for evidence-based information.

Legibility and presentation: The authors noted a variety of fonts, colours, and sizes that impacted the legibility of the information displayed. For example, one label featured in the study combined health warning messages with recycling information.


The study found an inconsistency in the labelling of alcohol products, with the majority of products examined failing to provide a full list of ingredients, low-risk guidelines, and health warning messages informing the drinker of the risks associated with alcohol use. The absence of such information means that drinkers are likely to be poorly informed about the contents of the product they are consuming as well as the carcinogenic nature of alcohol and associated health risks. In addition, failure to provide low-risk drinking guidelines means that drinkers are unable to monitor their intake effectively. The AHA recommends that the UK government intervene by giving a new or existing independent agency powers to ensure that labels become mandatory and are consistent, provide sufficient information for the consumer, and are free from alcohol industry influence. They also propose that label content and design are based on best practice in relation to size, colour, and positioning.

1  Alcohol Health Alliance UK (2020) Drinking in the dark: how alcohol labelling fails consumers. London: Alcohol Health Alliance UK. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/32866/

2  Alcohol Health Alliance UK (2022) Contents unknown: how alcohol labelling still fails consumers. London: Alcohol Health Alliance UK. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/36451/

3  Griswold MG, Fullman N, Hawley C, et al. (2018) Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet, 392: 1015–1035.

4 Alcohol Health Alliance UK (2018) How we drink, what we think: public views on alcohol and alcohol policies in the UK. London: Alcohol Health Alliance UK. Available online at: https://ahauk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/AHA_How-we-drink-what-we-think_2018_FINAL.pdf

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