What is known about the effectiveness of alcohol warning labels?

The majority of studies that have evaluated the impact of alcohol warning labels have focused on understanding the impact of the introduction of alcohol warning labels in the USA in 1989.  Principally because a largescale funded study was set-up to track consumers’ awareness of the messages with a baseline study and a control site (in Canada) as part of the research design.  In sum, the results of these studies (by Greenfield and colleagues) have shown mixed effectiveness but do suggest large percentages of USA consumers are aware and can recall the warning label message. Seeing the warning is associated with having conversations about drunk driving and drinking during pregnancy.  Further there is some evidence that as a result of seeing the warning message drinkers decide to not drive after consuming alcohol (see Greenfield et al. 1999 for details).  


Unfortunately, other largescale or experimental studies on alcohol warnings do not exist and as a result at this point in time there isn’t enough evidence on the potential process by which alcohol warning labels are more/less effective on behavioural outcomes to conclude on their efficacy.  Furthermore the literature (as documented in other sections of the website) is only beginning to turn its attention to the potential of pictorial warnings and alternative warning label messages, themes and designs.  Such research needs to be developed further to enable a fuller picture on the advantages and drawbacks of implementing alcohol warning labels policies.


This section also explores some of the findings that suggest that alcohol warning labels need to be considered carefully as potential defensive reactions have been found in some research.

Greenfield, T.K., Graves, K.L., and Kaskutas, L.A. (1999), "Long-term effects of alcohol warning labels: Findings from a comparison of the United States and Ontario, Canada," Psychology and Marketing, 16, 261-82.