Promoting consumer information on alcoholic beverages

The essence of risk communication is to provide citizens with a clear understanding of the benefits, harms, trade-offs and uncertainties of given behaviour. Risk communication should be based on up-to-date knowledge, honesty, empathy and respect.

A number of scientific communications have highlighted the steps to follow to achieve ethical risk communication taking examples of health issues related to food and drinks which are currently debated at EU level.

Consumers are confronted daily with conflicting media messages about what to eat or drink (eg coffee, junk food, red meat, alcohol, tuna sandwich or broccoli!) showing the complexities of risk communication regarding this category of consumer goods.

It is crucial to discern the purpose of risk communication—whether to change behaviour, beliefs, or merely provide information—emphasizing the differences between persuasion and information. Both objectives are acceptable, but they need to be spelt out by the sender of the message.

It is important to understand risk as more than just numbers, acknowledging its subjective nature influenced by individual perceptions and feelings.

The overarching goal is to promote clear, unbiased communication that fosters true comprehension of risks and benefits, ultimately empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their health. In this respect, the example of the health warning label in Ireland directly linking alcohol consumption to liver disease and cancer without offering a nuanced understanding of the risks was taken as an example not to be followed.

Scientific publications have seven rules to enhance risk communication to a level that could be understood by the target group to make an informed choice (away from fear tactics and persuasion).

  1. Specify the Risk and its Target Audience: it is important to clearly define the risk in question and identify the specific population or individuals affected.
  2. Quantify the Amount of Intake Associated with the Risk: the communication should always provide details on the quantity and frequency of food or drink intake linked to the risk, promoting a nuanced understanding.
  3. State the Time Period over Which the Risk Was Estimated:  one should never omit to specify the duration for which the risk has been calculated while acknowledging that risks may vary over time.
  4. Avoid Ambiguous Definitions: it is essential to refrain from using vague terms like "high" or "low" to describe risks. It is better to use numerical values to convey the magnitude of the risk.
  5. Present Absolute Risks, Not Just Relative Risks: it is necessary to provide both the baseline risk (unexposed group) and the risk in the exposed group and avoid reliance solely on relative risk percentages.
  6. Distinguish Between Risks to Populations and Individuals: Clarify the difference in impact when assessing risks at a population level versus an individual level, ensuring transparency in communication.
  7. Explain Uncertainties: it is important to acknowledge and explain uncertainties, including potential changes in information over time, variations in statistical confidence intervals, and the quality of evidence supporting the risk.

The overarching message is to prioritize informative communication over persuasion, respecting individuals' right to understand information and make informed choices regarding their health. No one can object to the importance of clarity, transparency, and a nuanced approach to risk communication.

  • Empowering consumers to make informed, responsible choices: evidence-based, proportionate and meaningful ways to raise health awareness and health literacy about alcoholic beverages (click here). 


STAY CONNECTED: Keep up-to-date with spiritsEUROPE’s activities via our Twitter & Newsletter