Warning on liquor bottles now a must

Warning on liquor bottles now a must

It is mandatory for all alcoholic drinks to carry a health warning from April 1. Metrolife asks the smoking helpline whether such warnings help

Alcoholic beverages manufactured before April 2019 can be sold in the market till March 31, 2020, according to the Food Satefy and Standards Authority of India.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has made it mandatory for all alcoholic beverages to carry warning messages from April 1.

The government announced the decision in March 2018 and allowed a year for spirits companies to clear their inventories and ring in the change. 

The warning labels are: ‘Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health’ and ‘Be safe - Don’t drink and drive’.

The warnings can be printed in English or the language of the region.

Do warning labels help?

Yes, according to the National Tobacco QuitLine Services, run by Nimhans, which gets nearly 2,000 calls a day. The helpline number is 1800 11 2356. 

Sudarshan Hegde, supervisor of the programme, says warning messages are making a difference.

“When you see pictures of the lungs and throat, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable, especially if you aren’t addicted to smoking. However, those who regularly smoke might go with the attitude of ‘let’s see where this goes’ even if they subconsciously feel uncomfortable,” he says. 

Warning labels make people aware of the consequences. “You think rationally. That’s probably when you feel like picking up the phone and calling the helpline or reducing your intake of the harmful substance,” he says.

Smokers between 18 and 35 call up the helpline, asking about the consequences. 

Mahesh Natarajan, counselling psychologist, says the labels work better when they are pictorial.

“You can be put off by a throat cancer picture on a cigarette pack. But that’s not the case when it’s just a text. People don’t pay too much attention to the text,” he says. 

Initiatives like selling cigarettes in plain tobacco packaging aim to deter smokers by removal of positive brand associations.

Australia was the first country to introduce packaging that was logo-free and carried a throat cancer warning. This was later followed by France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius and Thailand. 

“I’m not sure how much that’s going to help in the case of Indian consumers as branding is what makes a difference here. However, it’s something to think about,” says Mahesh. 

Drinking in Bengaluru is steadily increasing, according to Neha S Cadabam, consulting psychologist.

“Even teenagers are drinking nowadays. It could be peer pressure, stress, or just an attempt to seem cool,” she says.

The government keeps increasing the price of drinks, but that doesn’t bring down drinking, she says.

Parents may also have something to do with this, she reckons.

“They think it’s okay to drink with their children and normalise it for them. The idea is to tell the child you shouldn’t drink without them, but children don’t take it in the right sense,” she says. 

Neha advises parents to have an open conversation with their children, explaining the risks of drinking, and drawing a line. 

Warning labels, if displayed right, can make a difference, in her view.

“If someone is planning to quit, labels help reinforce those thoughts. In the case of those with severe alcoholic disorders, labels give scope for families to discuss the problem,” explains Neha.

Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology, Nimhans, adds, “One could either read the label and contemplate a life-changing choice or completely reject it. Either way, the messages should not be threatening. It should not make consumers anxious.”

Addiction helpline
(9.30 am to 6 pm Monday to Saturday)

Run by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to help those addicted to drink and drugs.

Warning text
The mandatory warning messages are: ‘Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health’ and ‘Be safe - Don’t drink and drive’.