The alcohol industry decided to make it clear exactly how much alcohol was in their products. The theory was that visible, easy-to-read labels would promote responsible drinking by allowing consumers to make informed decisions about the drinks they're about make. But according to a a new study published in the Drug and Alcohol Review Journal, the plan has backfired.
In Australia, like other developed countries, drinking has become a big problem among the younger generation. From 1993-2002, over 2500 young people (15-24) have died from alcohol-attributable injury and disease, with another 100,000 hospitalized. In light of the rising concerns about excessive drinking, the Australian alcohol industry announced a plan that introduced more visible standard drink labels. Scientists from the University of Wollongong wanted to know - did those labels actually make drinkers more responsible?
So they asked college students about their drinking habits and how much they utitlize alcohol labels. Six focus groups of students had similar answers: the majority of the participants are aware of the existence of standard drink labelling, notice standard drink labels and take these into account when choosing what to purchase. But they don't do so to make sure they have responsible control over the alochol they consume. Instead, they do so to get the best 'bang for their buck'. In other words, they use the labels to pick the most amount of alcohol at the lowest price.
Instead of supporting healthy drinking habits, standardized labelling actually serves to facilitate if not increase heavy drinking amoung young people. The authors caution that any changes to alcohol labeling must be well thought out and very careful.
"There is a need to consider the deeper implications about alcohol packaging and marketing," says the lead author, Sandra Jones, in a press release. "While earlier research with adult beer and alcohol drinkers has shown that standard drink labeling enables them to drink safely and responsibly, this motivation is not evident in the consumption choices with young drinkers and might even be counter-productive."
It looks like the alcohol industry will have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to reducing excessive drinking behavior. These kids these days, they're just too clever - they'll use whatever information they can to get drunk off their asses as quickly as possible.
Honestly, this doesn't shock me much. When I was in college, I knew someone who distilled their own grain alcohol from the cheapest vodka they could find. The stuff ended up close to 100% ethanol - and lots of people would drink it. I also know someone who spent a week in the hospital for alcohol poisoning and still has liver problems to this day. A good part of his popularity and reputation revolved around excessive drinking. The problem isn't the alcohol labelling, it's the culture in which this kind of behavior has become normal or even expected, let alone popularized and respected. It's the culture that needs to be changed.
SANDRA C. JONES, & PARRI GREGORY (2009). The impact of more visible standard drink labelling on youth alcohol consumption: Helping young people drink (ir)responsibly?
Drug and Alcohol Review, 28 (3), 230-234 DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2008.00020.x