WHITEHORSE – A study on alcohol warning labels in Yukon is moving ahead, albeit with some major revisions after the liquor industry raised concerns about the research.
Last November, large, colourful labels were affixed to all alcohol bottles and cans inside a Whitehorse liquor store as part of a federally funded study.
One label warned consumers that alcohol can cause cancer, while another informed people about the recommended maximum number of drinks per day.
Four weeks after the study began, the Yukon Liquor Corp. decided to halt the research after hearing concerns from national alcohol organizations that raised questions about defamation and whether the territorial government had authority to place the warnings.
Now the study is going ahead, but the label warning about links between alcohol and cancer has been dropped. Another label about standard drink sizes has been added.
The change in labels was prompted by the risk of “expensive and protracted” litigation, said John Streicker, the minister responsible for the liquor corporation.
“During our discussions with researchers, the liquor industry and other stakeholders, this compromise was proposed by the researchers as a way for us to continue evaluating the effectiveness of labels in informing Yukoners about safe drinking,” he said.
Local products, small-sized bottles and aluminum cans will not be labelled under the revised study.
The changes were spurred by concerns about recycling and trademark infringements, Streicker said.
“What we’re really working at is making sure that we can evaluate the effectiveness of labels, and that’s what we want to try and get at. And we want to steer clear of those things that are more potentially going to lead to conflict,” he said.
Timothy Stockwell, a researcher at the University of Victoria and one of the leads on the study, called the changes a “half-win.”
“The scientific value of the study is diluted,” he said, adding it will be difficult to detect any effects on attitudes, opinions and behaviours related to drinking, which is the study’s objective.
But he applauded the Yukon government’s willingness to participate in the research and the liquor corporation’s persistence in negotiating with all parties to figure out a way for the study to continue.
“They’ve done their best,” Stockwell said. “We’ve put them in a tight corner, and I think it’s started a bigger conversation than our little study would have triggered beforehand.”
Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical health officer, said he was disappointed to see the cancer warning label dropped, but noted the controversy about the study has created an international conversation.
“The discussion that has gone on locally, around the country and internationally over the last couple of months about, specifically, the cancer advisory label, has certainly raised public awareness of this risk. So in that way, we’ve already benefited,” he said.
The label study is set to conclude in June and results are expect in 2019.