Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Developing cancer warning statements for alcoholic beverages

Simone Pettigrew1*, Michelle Jongenelis1, Tanya Chikritzhs2, Terry Slevin3, Iain S Pratt3, David Glance4 and Wenbin Liang2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, Perth 6845, Australia

2 National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Australia

3 Cancer Council Western Australia, Perth, Australia

4 UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:786  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-786

Published: 3 August 2014



There is growing evidence of the increased cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption, but this is not well understood by the general public. This study investigated the acceptability among drinkers of cancer warning statements for alcoholic beverages.


Six focus groups were conducted with Australian drinkers to develop a series of cancer-related warning statements for alcohol products. Eleven cancer warning statements and one general health warning statement were subsequently tested on 2,168 drinkers via an online survey. The statements varied by message frame (positive vs negative), cancer reference (general vs specific), and the way causality was communicated (‘increases risk of cancer’ vs ‘can cause cancer’).


Overall, responses to the cancer statements were neutral to favorable, indicating that they are unlikely to encounter high levels of negative reaction from the community if introduced on alcoholic beverages. Females, younger respondents, and those with higher levels of education generally found the statements to be more believable, convincing, and personally relevant. Positively framed messages, those referring to specific forms of cancer, and those using ‘increases risk of cancer’ performed better than negatively framed messages, those referring to cancer in general, and those using the term ‘can cause cancer’.


Cancer warning statements on alcoholic beverages constitute a potential means of increasing awareness about the relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer risk.

Alcohol; Warning labels; Prevention; Attitudes