Bill S-254, an Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning label on alcoholic beverages) was introduced by Patrick Brazeau, Senator of Canada, in November 2022, as a measure of preventing alcohol harm in the country. With the rising risk of cancer due to alcohol use in Canada, the bill requires that the warning labels provide clear and accessible information on alcohol products regarding the extent of the harm in using alcohol. Resistance of and interference by Big Alcohol was expected, and Senator Brazeau called the Big Alcohol lobby out to step out of the dark corners of boozy receptions and transparently face the public.

Alcohol use in Canada and the best practices to prevent the harm

Alcohol use has been growing in Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the study ‘Alcohol and cannabis use during the pandemic: Canadian perspective survey series 6.’ One in four Canadians reported they increased their alcohol use in January 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic period. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, alcohol sales across the country rose by 4.2% from the previous year, according to another StatsCan study.

This was the largest alcohol sales increase in over a decade.

There isn’t any health warning so the implicit assumption is that it can’t be serious or bad enough, or surely the government would require it – and they don’t,” said Dr. Tim Stockwell, a scientist at CISUR and professor at the University of Victoria’s psychology department, as per Capital Current.

Dr. Tim Stockwell, scientist at CISUR, and professor at the University of Victoria’s Psychology Department

In 2017, a study led by Dr. Stockwell and published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs provided evidence that alcohol health warning labels will work in Canada.

Bill S-254, an initiative in the direction of preventing alcohol harm in Canada

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction reports that, since the release of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Consumption Guidelines in November 2011, substantial new research on the association between alcohol use and physical, mental and social harms has been produced. These findings show a direct causal link between alcohol use and the development of at least seven fatal cancers.

Therefore, the bill introduced by Senator Patrick Brazeau is necessary to provide accurate and current health information to citizens in relation to alcohol consumption to increase public recognition of the real effects of alcohol.

Patrick Brazeau is a Canadian senator from Quebec. At the age of 34, he was and is the youngest member of the Senate during his appointment. From February 2006 until January 2009 he held the position of national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Born in Maniwaki, Quebec, Senator Brazeau is a member of the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi.

The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) has revealed through their research that barely one in four Canadians are aware that they are exposing themselves to serious health risks by alcohol use.

Therefore, the bill requires that the warning labels will make the following information clear and accessible to consumers.

  • The volume of beverage that, in the opinion of the Department, constitutes a standard drink;
  • The number of standard drinks in the package;
  • The number of standard drinks that, in the opinion of the Department, should not be exceeded in order to avoid significant health risks; and
  • A message from the Department that sets out the direct causal link between alcohol consumption and the development of fatal cancers.

The technical requirements were worked out in consultation with experts at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria. The purpose was to start a serious national conversation about alcohol and cancer and to move towards health warning labels on alcohol.

Support for alcohol health warning labels

According to reporting by iPolitics, since introducing Bill S-254, a wide variety of citizens and health organizations expressed overwhelming support and encouragement. The Canadian Cancer Society was one of the first to reach out to Senator Brazeau, along with Queen’s University Health Board, Nova Scotia Health, Durham Region Medical Officer of Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Dr. Fawaad Iqbal.

Other key organizations that support warning labels include the Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health burden due alcohol in Canada

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance used by about three-quarters of people living in Canada. In 2017, alcohol caused 18,000 deaths in Canada, while the costs associated with alcohol in the same year were $16.6 billion, with $5.4 billion of that sum spent on health care.

Furthermore, according to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, more and more women are dying due to alcohol harm. Between 2001 to 2016 the rate for death related to alcohol climbed by 26% for women comparative to 5% for men.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada. However, the fact that alcohol is a carcinogen that can cause at least seven types of cancer remains largely unknown or overlooked. The most recent available data show that alcohol causes nearly 7,000 cancer deaths each year in Canada, with most cases being breast or colon cancer, followed by cancers of the rectum, mouth and throat, liver, esophagus and larynx. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, consuming less alcohol is among the top 10 behaviours to reduce cancer risk.

As few as two alcoholic drinks per day for a woman can double the likelihood that she will die before the age of 70 of breast cancer, and not just double her risk of breast cancer, but doubling the likelihood that it would be fatal,” said Dr. Sheri Fandrey from Manitoba Addictions Knowledge Exchange Centre, as per Global News.

Dr. Sheri Fandrey, Manitoba Addictions Knowledge Exchange Centre

After cancer, heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. Alcohol is a risk factor for most other types of cardiovascular disease, including, hypertension, heart failure, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and hemorrhagic stroke. Also, statistics show that liver disease is on the rise in Canada, and alcohol is one of its main causes.

Resistance and interference by Big Alcohol lobby against the warning labels

As reported by iPolitics, the resistance of the alcohol industry against the health warning labels was expected. But Senator Brazeau and other champions of the health warning label for alcohol products say they would not be intimidated or back down because of industry bullying or political pressure.

According to Capital Current reporting, Dr. Stockwell emphasizes it is lack of awareness and alcohol industry influence that has led to governments still not implementing alcohol health warning labels.

I think it’s a lack of awareness (of the health risks) generally, and the industry working very hard to keep us all in the dark,” said Dr. Stockwell.

Dr. Tim Stockwell, a scientist at CISUR and professor at the University of Victoria’s psychology department

The alcohol industry aggressively lobbies against health warning labels and thwarts science that shows the effectiveness of the policy. Dr. Stockwell’s Yukon study was initially meant to last for eight months but was stopped after just one month due to alcohol industry threats of legal action. After shutting down the study, the alcohol industry made media statements distorting and denying the evidence.

Bill S-254 is an anti-cancer initiative. It is focused on providing the Canadian public with the established, uncontroversial medical facts about the link between alcohol products and cancer

Senator Brazeau explains:

Should industry representatives agree to testify at the committee studying the bill, they will have to answer to Canadians and publicly defend their positions. No dark corners or boozy receptions are available in the committee room. Everything is brightly lit, fully televised and wonderfully transparent.”

Senator Patrick Brazeau

Source Website: iPolitics