AMA wants clearer alcohol warnings

Groups unhappy with how warning labels appear

Nov 17, 1999 - The American Medical Association and other groups have petitioned the government to make the warning labels on beer, wine and liquor easier to find and read.


The groups claim that the Treasury department has been lax in enforcing how a 42-word health warning appears since it was first required 10 years ago. The alcohol warning says that "women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects" and that drinking impairs the ``ability to drive a car or operate machinery."

Although the wording cannot vary, the labels appear in many ways. On bottles of Budweiser, it's printed vertically, in black on a red background. On bottles of Corona, the warning is more legible, running horizontally in black letters on a white background.

The petition asks Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to require something akin to the stark, rectangular warning labels that must appear on packs of cigarettes.

"As a practical matter the public is well-informed right now," said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, the industry's research and lobbying arm. "We shouldn't go down a road where changing a label is going to create this additional awareness that frankly is at saturation points right now."

Alcohol-related driving deaths have been declining steadily over the past two decades, but a 1997 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that drinking by pregnant women was on the rise. The study estimated that 140,000 pregnant women nationwide were frequent drinkers in 1995, compared with 32,000 women in 1991.

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