Alcohol companies in the United States have been exposed for misleading consumers with their product labeling. Customers filed several lawsuits requesting compensation for being misled by alcohol product labeling. Alcohol harm is pervasive in the US and is fueling an increase in deaths and decline in life expectancy. However, alcohol industry lobbying power is also pervasive and so alcohol policy measures are being watered down, weakened and disbanded all-together leading to an increase in alcohol availability and harm across the country.

Big Alcohol faces consequences for incomplete, misleading labeling

According to Mondaq reporting, distilled spirits manufacturers in the United States are facing issues due to incomplete or misleading representations on their product labels.

The Spirits Business reported that in June 2019, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), on behalf of alcohol giant Diageo, took legal action against Virginia Distillery Company in the US district court in Delaware. The trade body argued that Virginia Distillery’s products are “being passed off as Scotch whisky” since the term ‘Highlands’ is “reserved exclusively for Scotch whisky under US federal regulations.” The American producer, Virginia Distillery Company will remove the word ‘Highlands’ from its products after reaching an “amicable resolution” in its lawsuit with the SWA.

Another example is a lawsuit filed by a coalition of consumer groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and the National Consumers League (NCL) against the U.S. Treasury Department for lack of action taken over the last two decades to implement mandatory alcohol product labeling. 

The lawsuit alleges defendants have failed to take significant action in nearly two decades to address a 2003 Petition to Improve Mandatory Label Information on Alcoholic Beverages (Dec. 16, 2003) submitted by Plaintiffs, 66 other organizations, and eight individuals, including four deans of schools of public health. The Petition had urged TTB to require alcohol labeling with the same basic transparency consumers expect. For alcohol, that means labeling that has alcohol content, calorie, and ingredient information – including ingredients that can cause allergic reactions. This was an urgent public health and consumer protection matter. As a result of the 19 years long inaction, Plaintiffs’ members and supporters had been forced to consider alcoholic products without knowing important diet, health, and safety information.

Movendi International reported about the lawsuit in October 2022 already.

Consumers clearly want to know what is in beer, wine, and liquor products the alcohol industry makes.

Modaq recently reported another incident: Molson Coors Beverage recently faced a consumer class action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California over misleading customers with claims that their alcohol beverages are made “with Antioxidant Vitamin C from acerola superfruit.” In the most recent court filing on January 13, 2023, the plaintiffs seek approval of a non-revisionary settlement fund of $9.5 million, with the defendant agreeing not to use the phrase “in any labeling, primary packaging, or secondary packaging of any product,” as well as agreeing “to list Vitamin C in compliance with FDA requirements on the Nutrition Facts panel.”

Alcohol labels carry questionable health claims

It is a strategy of alcohol companies around the world to place misleading and questionable health claims on their product labels.

A recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that 54% of beers, ciders, and ready-to-drink (RTD) products on the website of the largest liquor retailer in Australia featured health-oriented marketing. 21% of audited wines also featured health-oriented marketing.

The most common health-related claims in these alcohol products were of being “natural” or containing fruit. In terms of the nutrition profile of these products claims on sugar and carbohydrate content were the most common.

Alcohol products trick Australians with health-oriented marketing claims
A recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that 54% of beers, ciders, and ready-to-drink (RTD) products on the website of the largest liquor retailer in Australia featured health-oriented marketing.

These health claims were misleading since these alcohol products were still categorized as full-strength alcohol products and science has found that no amount of alcohol is healthy. In fact, alcohol is known to cause at least seven different types of cancer.

Furthermore, the availability of nutritional information even online was poor at just 12% for beer, cider, and RTDs. This means people in Australia cannot compare the marketing claims with objective information on the product label. Therefore, the consumer right to make informed choices about products is being obstructed.

Cancer Council Victoria reports that over 75% of adults who use alcohol in Australia think ‘‘low carb’’ and ‘‘no added sugar’’ labels are healthier options despite being categorized as full-strength alcohol products. No level of alcohol is healthy and therefore, these alcohol products should not be considered as healthier.

At a time when Australians are becoming more focused on their health, we should be supporting efforts to live healthier lifestyles,” said Dr. Ashleigh Haynes, David Hill Research Fellow at Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, as reported by The New Daily.

Instead, alcohol companies are capitalizing on this shift, using health-related marketing claims to trick consumers into thinking their alcohol products are healthy when in reality, alcohol has significant negative health impacts.”

Dr. Ashleigh Haynes, David Hill Research Fellow, Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer

Alcohol labels are under review by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Advocates are calling for improved alcohol labeling. Specifically, including kilojoule energy content, and banning claims about sugar and carbohydrate content on alcohol product labeling.

Misleading labeling to create health halo for alcohol products

In the case of alcohol label claims in the United States, alcohol companies are exaggerating or inflating promise or praise for their products.

Alcohol companies are claiming their products were:

  • “carbon neutral”;
  • “estate grown”;
  • distilled using “100%” green energy,
  • “handmade” in copper pots;
  • made with “pure” wheat grain or “all natural” and “organic” rye;
  • aged or rested in charred oak or whiskey or wine barrels;
  • “triple distilled” using “artesian” rainwater,
  • “plastic-free,”
  • “single-sourced,” or
  • “small batch”.

Pervasive alcohol harm in the U.S. 

While many people are aware of the high death rates that tobacco and unhealthy food cause, fewer are familiar with the staggering burden of alcohol,” writes Prof. Nicholas Freudenberg in his 2014 book Lethal but Legal.

Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy

Alcohol harm is pervasive in the United States and is fueling the decline of life-expectancy documented in recent years. 

Deaths fully attributable to alcohol have risen in the past decade.

An estimated one in eight deaths of Americans aged 20 to 64 is the result of injuries or illness caused by alcohol, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings are a conservative estimate.

The study assessed the effects of alcohol on people of working age, who accounted for nearly two-thirds of the country’s annual average of 140,000 alcohol-related deaths.

Although alcohol takes a progressively heavier toll on older age groups, its effects are more noticeable in younger people who are less likely to die of other causes. Among those aged 20 to 49, one in five deaths was due to alcohol, and for those ages 20 to 34, it was one in four, the study found, according to New York Times reporting.

The estimates in this cross-sectional study of 694,660 mean deaths per year between 2015 and 2019 suggest that “excessive alcohol consumption” accounted for 12.9% of total deaths among adults aged 20 to 64 years and 20.3% of deaths among adults aged 20 to 49 years.

Death toll due to alcohol among young adults
Among young adults aged 20 to 49 years, the death toll due to alcohol is more than 20%. This means 44,981 annual deaths due to alcohol among young adults in the US.

The rise in alcohol deaths in the United States (U.S.) highlights the decade long alcohol policy failure by the federal and state governments in the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol caused more than 140,000 deaths every year between 2015-2019. This is 380 lives taken by alcohol every day.

The figures were calculated using CDC’s Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) application, using a new methodology. The ARDI application shows estimates of alcohol-attributable deaths and years of potential life lost from 58 conditions by age, sex, and state. 

Deaths caused by alcohol every year between 2015-2019 in the U.S.
According to the CDC, alcohol caused more than 140,000 deaths every year between 2015-2019. This is 380 lives taken by alcohol every day.

According to the findings every year alcohol deaths had the following consequences:

  • Reduced the average lifespan of those who passed away by 26 years, resulting in a loss of roughly 3.6 million years of potential life.
  • Generally involved adults aged 35 or older and males.
  • Were primarily brought about by the long-term health impacts of chronic alcohol use, including several cancers, liver diseases, and heart diseases.
  • Led to premature deaths.
    • Deaths from using too much alcohol in a short time (from causes such as motor vehicle crashes, poisonings involving substances in addition to alcohol, and suicides) accounted for more than half of the years of potential life lost.

Meanwhile, heavy alcohol use cost the nation $249 billion in 2010 (the most recent year of data available).

249 Billion
Heavy costs of alcohol harm in the U.S.
According to the CDC, alcohol harm cost the nation $249 billion in 2010 (the most recent year of data available).

Big Alcohol favored by the policies in the US.

The alcohol industry produces and promotes harmful products. Alcohol harm is an industrial epidemic caused by a commercial product and the industry profiting from it.

For instance, alcohol use among women in the U.S. has caught up to the level of men. This trend is leading to severe consequences in terms of alcohol harm in women. Women’s bodies process alcohol differently than men making women more susceptible to organ damage and diseases caused by alcohol. Since women are also more prone to using alcohol to cope, it affects their mental health more negatively.

This development is due to a deliberate marketing strategy of alcohol companies to create more consumer. And Big Alcohol continues to aggressively push their products on women, using various strategies to get more women to use alcohol, such as:

  • Pink-washing of alcohol, 
  • Marketing alcohol with other products such as makeup,
  • Promoting “low calorie” alcohol as better for women, and
  • Marketing alcohol as a gender equalizer by aligning with women empowerment.

Changes to alcohol laws on all levels in the U.S. are in favor of the profit interest of the alcohol industry and disregard the harms caused by widely available, cheap alcohol that is aggressively promoted by greedy alcohol companies.

Despite the reality of the alcohol burden in the U.S., law makers are giving in to alcohol industry lobbying to further worsen, water down and disband alcohol policy measures, promoting private profit interests.

As can be seen in the decades long ignorance of the requirement to improve alcohol labeling, the public health and social justice dimension remain largely absent from – despite overwhelming evidence of how alcohol is decimating families, communities and eroding economic productivity and sustainability.

Source Website: Holland and Knight